Review Summary: Coldplay coproducer thrills and enchants with classically tinged dubtronica.
You may not have heard of the guy, but it’s more than probable you’ve heard his work. Massive Attack, Herbie Hancock, Imogen Heap, and, most recently, Coldplay and Brian Eno, are just a few of the names you’ll see connected to the classically trained 28 year old’s already colourful profile. But if the mention of ‘classically trained’ and ‘Coldplay’ has you raising your eyebrows, then maybe the words ‘serrated dub-step’ and ‘aggressive electronica’ will dampen the fears slightly. Continuing on from his two previous critically acclaimed albums, Insides
is a lot darker, grittier and rougher around the edges than anything on either Contact Note
. It sees Hopkins expanding and exploring; keeping true to his clasically fashioned electronica sound but also delving into the bottomless depths of dub-step and dissecting the more aggressive, angry side of electronica. Put simply; it has more character.
While I say this record is rough around the edges, which, emotively, it is, it is also much more focused than previous outings. The violin which melancholically opens the record on ‘The Wider Sun’ gives the impression of a slow, pretty, yet standard classical affair. And, for a while, ‘Vessel’ continues the theme, toying with the false sense of security with soft piano keys and echoing ambience before the first swathes of bass and electronica start to seep in. The real curveball is thrown in the last thirty seconds though, and it hits right between the eyes. Goodbye piano and strings; hello sparse, nail-biting dub and headf
uck techno. The title track makes sure to follow through with this relentless, ragged beat-beating, twisting and tearing at any rhythm or melody with guttural, back-and-forth bass and denticulate blast beats. ‘Colour Eye’ is probably the most urgent, violent and disorientating of the 10 tracks, spitting hot, piercing glitches at the listener and cramming a claustrophobic amount of beats into one brilliantly short-of-breath track.
is not just a 101 on how to abuse harmony and mess with minds, though. The trip-hop stylings of ‘Wire’ comes across as a mash-up between Leftfield and early RJD2, appropriate for blasting from any rolled-down car window. The nine minute centrepiece ‘Light Through The Veins’ is a gorgeous, slowly budding epic-lite, taking a simple melody in its embryonic form and adding to it with swirls of soothing ambience, gently insistent beats and other relaxing miscellaneous noises which come and go throughout to watch the grand yet modest blossoming of the final two minutes. After this, the aggression of the first half of the record’s dub-step is rarely returned to, but it is this juxtaposition which makes the second half all the more calming and wondrous. ‘The Lower Places’ keeps with the beats but takes them off the steroids, and just allows the piano keys and echo pads to do their thing with a bit of backing. ‘Small Memory’ loses the beats altogether, and, along with the final track ‘Autumn Hill’, is the most typically ‘classically trained’ of all. Only piano makes an appearance. They are both regrettably short because, on both occasions, they keys truly do create magically moving pieces of music.
For me, that is where the record loses points. Hopkins has done a brilliant job with his first real foray into the murky undergrowth of dub-tinged electronica, shaping it with his own classicalist composer’s mind, but there could have been a bit more on the orchestrated side of things. The pianos are regular and always impressive, the violins sorrowful and poignant, but, for this listener, they do not make enough of an impact, enough of an impression against the heavy beats, to truly move
is a thrilling, addictive, at times breathtaking piece of electronica and is sure to make Hopkins into a name more renown than just ‘Coldplay’s co-producer’, but here’s hoping that with his next effort he can focus a little more on stirring the heart and a little less on shocking the head.