Stott is still one of the finest, most individual producers.
Ever since 2011’s one-two punch of We Stay Together and Passed Me By, Andy Stott has been pursuing a warped, experimental techno sound with consistent quality and increasing confidence. Techno, like all electronic club music, is a singles game, but Stott works defiantly in the album format, dividing discs less into tracks than named movements in a larger composition of dub hiss and damp exploration through sonic jungles. Too Many Voices is the latest in his incremental expansions of form, one that never deviates too far from predecessor Faith in Strangers but sounds shockingly refined if one compares it to where the producer was only four years ago.
The basic building blocks of Stott’s work remain in place: Basic Channel-esque dub crackle, perilously low-ended bass and, above all, the vocals of his childhood piano teacher, Alison Skidmore. That he has etched out two long EPs and now three full-length albums of variable material is a testament to Stott’s creativity. Here, he prioritizes Skidmore’s voice, looping and stacking samples into something that verges closer to traditional house music than anything to come out of Stott’s industrial grinder. That almost gives the album an upbeat tick, and without question this is the most track-oriented of his recent work. “New Romantic” alone could fit into a number of different DJ sets, a straightforward banger that runs on wildly amplified handclaps and kicks that gradually curdles with deadpan, spacy vocals and a few chirps and bells that add high-register synth elegance to something that could otherwise make the walls rattle at Berghain.
“Butterflies” could have come from one of those early synth film scores of the ‘80s, like a mixture of Tangerine Dream’s tonal chorales and John Carpenter’s stark but eerie click percussion. Single “Selfish” is pure industrial noise, all ringing metal on metal interspersed with heavily compressed machine gun rattles and a loop of a detached moan that sounds unsettlingly childlike. Halfway through, it slows down and drops the volume, but if anything it becomes even darker, as if there were no one left to run the machines. “First Night” has the feel of a dancefloor at five in the morning, still going but at an altogether more sluggish pace, only for those with the fortitude to have lasted this long. Even the warbling, unsteady bass, a riff on early dubstep wub, has the feel of someone staggering around on drunken autopilot.
If the album could be said to have a flaw, it is that despite the quality of the tracks, nothing stands out as particularly revelatory after several LPs of subtle reinvention by the producer. The melodicism of the album is shocking when placed against Passed Me By, but Faith in Strangers had that quality in spades. And where that album still felt compositional in scope, this one backs off into something more ordinary. Some tracks would work on other Stott albums, where they would form part of a larger aural sculpture, but here they feel out of place, a movement from another piece awkwardly dropped into a singles collection. This is especially true of opener “Waiting for You,” with its cycle of squelched chirps and loping pattern. It could easily have fit onto We Stay Together or even Luxury Problems, but now it sounds obsolete, almost like a demo.
Nonetheless, it is unfair to criticize an artist for failing to live up not to a standard of quality but a standard of restless innovation. Not even the greatest of geniuses can push the envelope forever, and it is no coincidence that artists like David Bowie and Prince only receive full appreciation for the quality of their output after their deaths, when the boundless invention is taken for granted and the neglected later years are finally examined outside of petulant desires to see an artist go back to the forefront of their genre. Too Many Voices is every bit as enjoyable as the producer’s previous albums, and in terms of pure accessibility it may be even more so. By the time the title track closes out the record on a reverbed vocal line wrapped in various overlapping and pitch-shifted samples, one is left secure in the knowledge that Stott is still one of the finest, most individual producers in a field that largely thrives on conformity.