There’s a moment towards the end of Faith In Strangers when you momentarily forget you’re listening to an Andy Stott album. The melody that emerges about a minute into the album’s stunning title track breaks through like a sunshine breaking through heavy cloud cover on a grey, drizzly day in the Lake District. While most of Stott’s music over the past few years has sought to crush the life out of you either physically or emotionally, “Faith In Strangers” feels more like an embrace. More than that, it’s a bonafide pop song, and one of the best you’re likely to hear this year.
Faith In Strangers
2LP, CD, Digital
When Modern Love announced that Faith In Strangers would see Stott creating an album melding analogue club music with vocal pop, I probably wasn’t alone in being a little sceptical. His last album, Luxury Problems, might have successfully melded his trudging techno with a vocal element, but there was little there to suggest Stott was able to structure songs. The vocals of his former piano teacher Alison Skidmore added a human dimension to his previously bleak music, but her voice was little more than a textural accompaniment to Stott’s tectonically shifting beats. No such criticism can be levelled at Faith In Strangers, in which Stott’s sound moves so far ahead of itself it makes his previous material seem almost amateur by comparison.
The only real link to the Stott sound of the past few years is opener “Time Away”, a six-minute dirge that sounds like a chorus of foghorns mourning the death of a lost love. While its patient approach is a reminder of the music of Passed Me By, there’s none of that sense of churning cement mixer momentum – it’s still dense, but there’s a sense of being carried rather than being buried by the sound. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Rather than a creating tracks that gather momentum and bulk like a snowball rolling down a mountain, Stott balances the sublime moments of punishing sound with wide open space. If Luxury Problems and We Stay Together often felt like being slowly ground down by gradually shifting tectonic plates, Faith In Strangers often feels like the very opposite – a gentle breeze flowing between two mountaintops.
However, it’s largely Skidmore’s vocals that give Faith In Strangers its character, lending the album a sense of bleak Cocteau Twins-inspired beauty. “Violence” is perched perilously between ‘80s dream pop and contemporary analogue techno, but it’s always Skidmore’s voice you’re drawn to, even if her lyrics are frustratingly difficult to make out. Even when her voice is made grotesque by Stott’s hand – as on the choral bottom layer of “On Oath” – her character is never lost. Skidmore and Stott may have seemed like unlikely collaborators last time around, but on Faith In Strangers it’s much more clear where they complement each other – both share a certain fallibility that lends their music a universal appeal.
The only weak links in the album are the instrumental tracks “Damage” and “No Surrender”. Both feel like they belong in the recent album Stott made with Miles Whittaker as Millie & Andrea, two pieces of raucous analogue jungle that don’t seem to belong in Stott’s new world. It’s the subtler moments of Faith In Strangers that stick out – Skidmore’s moment of laughter towards the end of “Science & Industry” for example. Stott hasn’t just made an album of pop music out of techno, he’s made an album that never feels anything less than brutally honest in its depiction of human emotion.
1. Time Away
3. On Oath
4. Science & Industry
5. No Surrender
6. How It Was
8. Faith in Strangers