Published Apr 30, 2018"Overall," Jon Hopkins tells Exclaim! of his forthcoming LP, "Singularity has a certain lightness to it compared to Immunity. It's less closed off; it doesn't have that claustrophobic sound." His fifth album is a 60-minute lesson in balance: half gritty, thumping techno and half airy, ambient piano. "There's just a beautiful symmetry to it," he asserts.
Over the phone from Istanbul, with the album's release a month away, Hopkins' calm British demeanour betrays hints of excitement, but never nerves (even though he's due on stage in 45 minutes). It's a far cry from where he was in 2013, when he released his breakthrough LP Immunity. That album, a luminous, deeply textured techno epic that garnered him both universal critical acclaim and a Mercury Prize nomination, took Hopkins' career to a new level, but after writing that album and two film scores — and embarking on a long worldwide tour — in the span of just a few years, Hopkins needed a break.
"It was very gruelling and demanding. After that, I found myself burnt out and really in need of some serious rehabilitation."
Hopkins turned his focus inward, and did what he now calls "the clichéd 'musician in California' thing: started to meditate, went to Joshua Tree." Eventually, he says, "New musical ideas starting forming in my head, and I found myself starting to write again, which was really exciting. In order to truly explore what I could write as a solo artist, I needed to shut the door on everything else for a bit."
The fruitful writing sessions at first yielded uptempo, dance floor-ready tracks, perhaps the result of a rested mind that had energy to expel; in a 2016 interview, he told PopMatters that he was working on "really upbeat stuff" for his next project. But L.A. is a complex city, often as gritty and inhospitable as it is gorgeous and relaxing.
"When you get there, if you live somewhere quiet like I did, up in the hills, like Echo Park and Silver Lake, it seems so peaceful —and I still have a lot of love for it — but as you spend more time there, you start feeling the strangeness of the place. There's this incredible contrast between some of the most narcissistic people and then some of the coolest, realest, most down-to-earth people I've ever met in my life. It's all these extremes living together; this incredible poverty and homelessness right next door to the extraordinarily rich. I just got a little bit disillusioned with it, as a whole."
As Hopkins' sonic explorations continued, they tarted to yield darker, more pummelling techno and, in stark contrast, lighter and more airy piano-based ambience.
Singularity, according to album's press materials, "explores the dissonance between dystopian urbanity and the green forest," and he evokes both across the album's distinct two sides.
"I'm not interested in making an album that's just dark and pummelling for an hour, nor am I interested in making a beatless record from start to finish."
So although a long, droning synth note opens first track "Singularity" and begins a four-track deluge of ominous synths, deep, gritty-sounding percussion and thick, thrumming bass lines that culminate at the climax of ten-minute epic "Everything Connected," the clouds suddenly break halfway through the record, showing the "more warm-hearted and open" side that Hopkins alluded to earlier.
But striking that balance wasn't easy.
"Blending techno into choral music over a few minutes was a great challenge," Hopkins admits. "There's no way you could just go straight from the extremely dirty, gritty ending of 'Everything Connected' straight into choral music [on 'Feel First Life']. It had to feel organic, like they were growing from the same place."
Once he achieved that, and began to put the finishing touches on the LP, its central themes became apparent to him.
"When I talk about singularity, I'm thinking in some ways about the conception of the universe. It sounds ridiculous talking about this in relation to an electronic music album, but that infinitely small point, the infinite expansion of the universe and the eventual contraction back to that point — and also just life cycles, as well."
That might sound like heady stuff ("Some people might cringe," Hopkins laughs), but Hopkins has been around long enough to see how cycles affect both his creative headspace and emotional well-being. He makes reference to it via the album's own cyclical nature with "the drone that starts [first track] 'Singularity' and ends [last track] 'Recovery,'" a touch that he felt lends the album the necessary cohesive feel.
The track "Recovery," an airy, ambient piano piece, is "the polar opposite," of the album's intro, he says. "Like a full circle. By the time it gets to the end, it's in the exact opposite place, and yet it ends with the same sound, the infinite simplicity of that one note.
"I like that idea."
Singularity comes out May 4 on Domino Records,