Since hitting the scene in 2005 with the gentle, Detroit-tinged house of the Replace EP, Andy Stott's music has cycled through elegantly deep techno, idiosyncratic takes on dubstep and juke (the later under the Andrea moniker) and all manner of experimentalism. But with the release of 2012's Luxury Problems and through to 2014's Faith in Strangers, Stott seems to have settled—if "settled" is a term that can be used for such an adventurous artist—on a wide-ranging style that takes in both the serrated rhythms of grime and a near-gothic form of melodic grace. His latest, Too Many Voices (released on Manchester's peerless Modern Love, as is Stott's entire discography) zeroes in on those dichotomous sounds yet again, this time synthesizing them to near-perfection.
Like his two previous albums, Too Many Voices employs the spectral vocals of Stott's one-time piano instructor, Alison Skidmore. The tracks that put the focus on her soothing intonations have a bittersweet feel, with a pop-tinged lightness that's grounded by Stott's subdued abstractions. Comparisons have been made between his music's melodicism and that of such early-’80s 4AD acts as Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance‚ and while that's a facile correlation, there is something to it—they share a gauzy darkness that's easy to get lost in.
But here, more so than Stott's earlier releases, there's an airier feel, one that's evident despite the angular, sometimes heavy percussive elements that anchor many of the songs. "New Romantic" layers Skidmore's whispered voice and a chorused electric bass over a tough tech-funk rhythm, as spacious chords echo above—the effect is akin to what an alternate-1983-universe Art of Noise collaboration with Elizabeth Fraser might have sounded like. (We can dream, can't we?) "Forgotten," meanwhile, drapes her effected voice over a lurching kick drum and booming toms, as what sounds like a metallic locust scrapes away to provide propulsion—it's eerie, yet hypnotically comforting.
Too Many Voices provides as many moments of disquiet, albeit a particularly exquisite form of disquiet, as it does of comfort. One of Stott's trademarks is the crafting of rhythms are often slightly off, sometimes lending an air of angsty foreboding to his music. "First Night," for instance, employs a skeletal kick-and-clap pattern that struggles to keep pace with its looped vocal and teetering synth-bass; it feels as though it could fall apart at any minute, and the effect is oddly mesmerizing. The fantastic "Waiting for You" has the feel of cleaved cathedral-chord rave (hardcore rave was an early love of Stott's), while "Over," all baneful sagging chords and geologic percussive accents, could pass for a gravedigger-movie theme song.
Those tracks are certainly impressive constructions, but Too Many Voices is at it's best when Stott aims for the celestial. Songs like "Butterflies," featuring Skidmore's wistful vocals laid atop woozy, warbling synths and rat-a-tat rhythms, or album's title cut—boasting an angelic choir of Skidmores, all laying down a melody that reaches for the heavens—are among the dreamiest tunes that Stott has produced. And as it happens, they're among of the best, too.