Ambient techno album earthy and intimate

Mark Merritt

During the late ‘70s, Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” and Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” captivated listeners with their minimalistic charm. Progressive guitar licks and up-tempo disco rhythms were the musical norm during those days.

Album: Immunity  Artist: Jon Hopkins  Label: Domino Records Released: June 4, 2013 Nominated: 2013 Mercury Prize for best album  Duration: 1:00:00 4/5 Stars
Album: Immunity
Artist: Jon Hopkins
Label: Domino Records
Released: June 4, 2013
Nominated: 2013 Mercury Prize for best album
Duration: 1:00:00
4/5 Stars

But Eno and Reich strayed from the pack, spearheaded a new sound with an emphasis on texture, atmosphere and repetition. Their approach to composition was minimalist, refreshingly straightforward.

It’s been three decades since the term “ambient music” was coined, and roughly two decades since Aphex Twin, The Orb and Boards of Canada further popularized chilled-out electronica. NPR’s syndicated radio show “Hearts of Space” has been broadcasting ambient music since the ‘70s. Despite the passage of time, the simple charm of ambient music has not withered and its legacy is embedded in the minds of a select number of electronic producers.

Enter 34-year-old synth-wrangler Jon Hopkins, London-based producer and multiple Mercury Prize nominee.

Hopkins is perhaps best known for merging bass-heavy dance music with ethereal ambiance. “Immunity,” his most recent album, is an eight-track studio LP and an hour-long barrage of throbbing four-on-the-floor rhythms, deep bass and warped synthesizer licks.

“We Disappear” begins the album with robotic percussion, diving bass and arpeggiated synths. Scrambled, glitched-out, slick, a fitting prelude for “Immunity.” There’s a dampness about “We Disappear” as it develops. Tiny digital voices interlock in a dizzying array. The massive drum patterns are calculated, but not rigid. It’s the sort of loose-jointed agility not found on  Hopkins’ other records.

Dance-floor-friendly tracks, specifically “Breathe This Air” and “Collider,” are repetitive and flow eerily with a certain slowness. There are downtempo and ambient elements within the tracks—hazy atmospheric dissonance, droning synths—but both songs wouldn’t be out of place in a club or at a rave.

“Sun Harmonics”—the longest track on the album at nearly 12 minutes—fits in this category as well, but is recognizably mellower. Subdued guitar and disembodied voices weave throughout the track and contrast nicely with a standard dance beat. Given the length, Hopkins has ample time to morph the track at whim, but nothing too drastic manifests. The track fades into swirling ambiance a little too abruptly and drones on for another couple of minutes. It’s pleasant to listen to, but a little underwhelming and repetitive.

“Abandon Window” sets a different tone. There’s nothing dancey about it. Beginning where “Sun Harmonics” left off, Hopkins summons dreamlike serenity with an airy, reverb-soaked piano progression. Distorted bass rumbles beneath a chugging drumbeat. It’s more post-rock than it is electronica.

The placement of the track couldn’t be any better. After a solid half hour of explosive dance music, “Abandon Window” allows the listener a chance to sit back and relax. “Immunity,” the closing track on the album, shares a similar vibe in its peacefulness.

Both tracks are thoughtfully composed, slow and delicate. They prevent the album from sounding too aggressively synthetic.

Although Hopkins composes these songs using digital equipment, there’s an earthiness about them.

“Immunity” is an intimate record, best enjoyed during a nighttime walk or in the warmth of bed. Its charm lies in its bipolarity. As I see it, there are two Jon Hopkins’ at play here: the longtime collaborator with ambient pioneer Brian Eno and the bass-thirsty producer with a fetish for electronic dance music.

The two don’t conflict; they mingle, flirt and combine for a colorful, engrossing album.