Review Summary: The sound of adventure itself, frozen within a still frame.
There isn't much blatant meaning one can pull from “Open Eye Signal"'s official music video. It features a kid in Arizona skateboarding the day away, passing from one landscape to the next as if all the most diverse terrains of America have become inexplicably concentrated in a tiny stretch of land. And in this sense, the video differs from the song in that it goes through detectable shifts-- the song itself, if accurately recreated in a similar video, would be a far more predictable journey to behold, an indeterminate span of desert sands. It would be a spectacle of its own, portraying desert as something more than the arid and infertile countryside it is, because like the song it conveys, it cloaks its monotony through subtle devices-- mechanisms that give us the illusion of stylistic progress.
There’s nothing wrong with Jon Hopkins’ brand of evenness, for the portions of Immunity
that fall under this category can’t help but be captivating. The album’s most thorough beast is the soothing “Sun Harmonics,” a track that succeeds just because it expands on similar ideas for more than eleven minutes. It’s because the song develops in a satisfying, natural way that the song is one of the album highlights. It retreads ideas in its runtime, but this isn’t ground for criticism if the ideas are worth covering more than once. Much of Immunity
operates in this same manner, and it’s proof that Jon Hopkins functions best when time is on his side-- this album works because it’s allowed to breathe, and each idea doing wonders with the time it’s given. “Collider” functions with the same drum beat for nine minutes, but the track simply needs to be that long, given what Hopkins does with it. “Collider” starts with a sample of a woman sighing, which would feel contrived if it weren’t put to such great use here, by inviting the music’s additional elements to join the fold. And then the song proceeds to flow marvelously well for the rest of its runtime, with atmospheric synths that create a poignant atmosphere. Even though the blueprint here is simple enough, the end product is far more huge than the sum of its parts-- the main reason Immunity
is such an easy album to get lost in.
The record covers a remarkable amount of ground, especially in its more accessible moments. “Breathe This Air” has certifiable direction in its step when it drops tech-house, moving straight into hazy ambiance. The piano chords used here are simple, as they should be-- the moment’s shift is a delicate thing, one that would be easily disturbed by complexity. But once the dust has settled, the drums come back in, piano chords in tow, and the combination makes so much sense. This marriage of thoughtful downtempo with pushy house percussion is longing, and searching for some kind of relief. Moments like these, the ones that go against the rather homogeneous grain Immunity
has been pushing, show a side to Hopkins’ music that could be more thoroughly explored. Even though the more patient songs here work with enough variation to be rewarding-- and really, on any other release they would be the undeniable highlights-- Immunity satisfies the most when it shows more of its skin. But this is where the album is quite the paradox, for its duller moments occur when it reveals too much. The most obvious example is the title track, and how its outright downtempo panders far more than the tracks before it. It seems Jon Hopkins’ music works best when it doesn’t know what style it wants to embrace.
It’s fun to entertain the thought of Jon Hopkins closing Immunity
with such a left-field song strictly
because he wants to give resolution to all the journeys captured within the release. Maybe he sees the eponymous track as an answer to all the questions he’s proposed until that very moment, or as a way to close out such a sprawling journey with a sweet sense of relief. As satisfying as the ending is, though, it seems to contradict the philosophy I see in this record. In the most extended cuts of Immunity,
more than anything else I hear the sound of adventure frozen within a still frame. The songs move straight ahead, but as time passes, they become part of a cyclical process to which no resolution is expected. In these moments, there’s no need for the music to reach any sort of resolution-- rather, they’re fine enough on their own, moving while injecting meaning at every bend. It seems Jon Hopkins is showing us his album is no rabbit chase, that the music buried within is simultaneously the means and the end. But then, “Immunity” presents itself as the missing piece of the puzzle, the catharsis we were conditioned not to expect. In this very moment, our preconceptions of Jon Hopkins have been entirely undermined-- and there’s little to do but enjoy the hell out of the twist of events.