Andy Stott

Luxury Problems

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Despite being significantly more ambient and less knotty than Andy Stott's 2011 releases, which were combined and expanded that December for Passed Me By/We Stay Together, Luxury Problems is nearly as spine-chilling. Its rhythms are fluid more often than coagulated, and there's an additional human element granted by the voice of opera-trained singer Alison Skidmore. The sense of intimacy is present from the opening "Numb," beginning with a looped intonation of "touch," a fragment of which takes the role of hi-hat before an industrial-sounding thrum -- something like a mechanical malfunction -- enters as a four-four beat. It's dark ambient, industrial techno, and trip-hop all at once. The hard-churning "Sleepless" stomps and grieves with sampled voices volleying distraught phrases: "You left me" (male), "You faked it" (female). The title song possesses a rhythm as sleazy as that of anything by Matias Aguayo or Matthew Dear; the sound of Skidmore's voice is so hushed and echoed that the words could be taken as a come-on or a warning, with sudden gasps and breaths signifying either anticipation or terror (or both). Toward the end, the album takes a pair of contrasting, thrilling turns. "Up the Box" begins with three minutes of rustling percussion that gradually intensify prior to dissipating into a short sequence of blips and unfurling the deathless "Amen" break in atypically slow motion. Then, on the closing "Leaving," somewhere between minimal wave and Cocteau Twins' Victorialand, strings are reduced to vapor and drift through plangent two-note keyboard riffs and Skidmore's elegiac vocal. In its own less-alien way, Luxury Problems is more brilliant than what preceded it.

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