25 Masterworks: Jon Hopkins – Immunity
My Spin on Masterworks: 24 of 25
I loved Immunity upon hearing it three years ago, but since then it has steadily become more than a mere favourite: it’s practically indispensable to me. There have been (and continually are) regular situations in which this album is the first thing I’ll reach for, whether that’s as an aural balm, or as a soundtrack companion. When I’m crossing London after sundown, heading for an overnight shift or just feeling a restless compulsion to walk, Immunity captures the thrill of wandering through the city, both immersed in and disconnected from its animation. At other times, its heavy throbs sharply evoke those nights in which time feels simultaneously condensed and stretched-out, whether I’m alone or in a crowd. More simply, it offers a dependable source of phenomenal sounds when everything else has become tiresome, and I crave that visceral shot of wonder it provides.
Immunity contains multitudes, but more than anything else, it provides an unfailingly formidable testament to the cathartic, indefinable power of music itself. To experience it from start-to-finish (preferably as loud as possible on a snug pair of headphones) is an inspiring reminder that a medium so excessively broad and easy to tire of (or feel overwhelmed by) still has the potential to tap into transcendence, when an artist or team creates a work capable of making a direct, genuine connection with its listener. Immunity does exactly this: it’s an experience that spirits you away, sets the imagination soaring, and swallows you up; heart, soul and ears. And it does so with no discernible words whatsoever: its profound impact is conducted purely through sound.
You can read a tremendous articulation of the album’s blow-by-blow impact at Arbiter of Taste, in which the album’s vivid power is brought into specific focus. For my part, I struggle to articulate exactly how each track resonates, what images and ideas it recalls, and why. It’s hard enough for me to identify and describe each of Immunity’s individual gracenotes, not to mention the way each one succeeds in shooting shivers down my spine or transporting me somewhere completely different. It’s possibly because there’s just too much I’d like to say about it, and I frequently run the risk of turning into a gushing mess (which has probably happened here anyway, but I’ve started, so I’ll finish).
I’ve barely researched how Jon Hopkins sculpts his songs at all. Unlike most (if not all) of the other entries in this series, I don’t want to know how this music was conceived in a technical sense, because integral to its enrapturing appeal is its aura of mystery. I fear that as soon as I’ve investigated the hard facts of the programming, the sampling, the editing, and so on, part of Immunity’s magic will fade. Hopkins deserves so much praise for his work on this album, and the talent he wields here surely single him out as one of British music’s brightest leading lights, and not just in the field of electronica. However, his work in Immunity is so accomplished that the thrill of the music is all-consuming in and of itself. Wherever the word “electronic” is raised in relation to music, there will be prompted some degree of discussion as to what extent the final product sounds “organic” or “synthetic”: how the artificial and the analogue sounds are blended and balanced. But with Immunity, the work is one breathtakingly fluid mass of sound that completely convinces the listener of its own energy and life force. Not only do I enjoy this music, I believe in it, and Hopkins himself completely disappears behind its vibrancy.
Statements like that run the risk of sounding overly hyperbolic, but the music of Immunity genuinely sounds alive and purposeful. This album moves: it’s restless, fidgety, cacophonous, constantly rising and falling, breathing and collapsing, growing and shrinking and mutating seemingly of its own volition. From the second the outside world is sealed off with that opening door slam, the music begins to twitch and shift like a waking creature, and the momentum it gathers across the album’s length is completely compelling. Those aren’t beats driving the album: they’re pulses. Once ‘Open Eye Signal’ has cycled up, the kinetic force of the music is palpable: the friction and mounting tension of that gradually warping bass stumbles to keep pace with that relentlessly surging rhythm. It’s a breathtaking and draining exercise in which the central elements contort into new forms, constantly clenching and unclenching like a huge muscle across seven minutes, as on the peripheries, celestial sounds and shapes glide past.
After taking a plunge into some of those breathtakingly glacial piano segments during ‘Breathe This Air’, things become even more oppressive in the commanding ‘Collider’, which resembles a thunderstorm of techno passing directly overhead, with synths striking down out of the accumulated mass. The whole passage vibrates with urgency over a looped sigh, which is simultaneously evocative of a sensual moan and the cold, steady hum of a life-support machine. As with every moment on Immunity, the textures are remarkable in their depth and range: the thick, smudgy brutalism of an overpowering bass or beat countered by flickers of light in the form of pristine keys, while in the background there is constant motion: a faint slow-motion firework, a wash of calming winds, the brittle creak of chairs and pedals.
Although the album begins with Hopkins ushering the listener into his studio, the album feels paradoxically huge as well as intimate. ‘We Disappear’ establishes this strange dichotomy with its soft introduction, as if Hopkins is allowing us a glimpse inside a miniature universe, before the arrival of a whomping beat suddenly envelopes all else – including your full attention. Even when Immunity flirts with ambience, the results are not “ignorable” in the Eno-coined sense: they work to complement the more aggressive passages, with each sound vital instead of decorative. Each individual track is rich, stunningly textured, and memorable, but Immunity is a holistic creation, and the full effect achieved by letting it consume you for its full sixty minutes is beyond description. After this heavy, dramatic, layered journey, the dying moments of ‘Immunity’ attain a peaceful fragility through bittersweet quiet. The mixture of clear, trickling piano keys, softly whirring effects, and King Creosote’s gentle, indecipherable croon is achingly affecting, as the album reaches its patient, moving conclusion.
However you chose to listen to the record –as an evocation of (or soundtrack to) a night out, a tribute to the physical properties of a particular place, the private odyssey of a wide-eyed gamer – the journey it offers has a definitive end point. But this astounding album invites the listener back time and time again, to discover things anew, to puzzle out the details while remaining breathlessly in awe of such an extraordinary, beautiful mass of sound. Over time, the effect becomes spellbindingly personal – at the very least, it has for me. This is an album which continues to move me in a way that very few records can rival.
Fuck me, trying to explain it just feels detrimental. Go and listen to it right now. This is elemental music.
Posted on December 10, 2016, in 25 Masterworks, The Music World and tagged 25 Masterworks, Abandon Window, Breathe This Air, Brian Eno, Domino Records, Immunity, Insides, Jon Hopkins, King Creosote, Open Eye Signal, Purity Ring. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.