Manchester producer Andy Stott has built his reputation by crafting distinct and enveloping worlds through his music. The particular vehicle he's depended on, a ghostly take on dub techno, has lent itself to showing off the nuanced textures and immaculate sonic details he is capable of assembling, creating productions that are less memorable for their specific musical qualities and more for the moods they invoke and the vivid places they transport the listener to. On Luxury Problems, Stott challenges himself to move further outside his production comfort zone, for the first time incorporating vocals (oddly enough, mostly from his one-time piano teacher Alison Skidmore) and a few other odds and ends for an LP that isn't perfect, but is not without some truly transcendent moments.
Anyone who has been fortunate enough to see an Andy Stott live performance knows the man is a master at patiently building and breaking apart rhythmic and musical patterns. Luxury Problems highlights this honed skill set in plain sight, as the repeated intricacies and clever twists Stott utilizes in his productions are easier to identify when used to work Skidmore's voice into layered processions of harmonized words and breathy phrases. With one exception—"Lost and Found," which uneasily skips about while matching Stott's more growling tones with an operatic vocal performance—the album contributions featuring Skidmore are the LP's strongest. The opening "Numb" coalesces almost-whispered vocals into a beautifully orchestrated procession as subtle drones intensify underneath. When the slow and steady kick (we're talking below 100 bpm here) finally sinks in, it makes for one of the best new examples of why Stott is considered in a class of his own—no one else sounds like this. Later on, the eight-plus-minute "Hatch the Plan" takes Skidmore's voice in a different direction, as Stott infuses the churning production with just the right amount of pop sensibility. It sounds a little crazy, but the song really does work. And lastly, "Leaving" closes the album with a beatless composition pairing Skidmore's soaring vocals (of course, again worked into various complementary layers) with a thick, poignant bassline for the record's briefest, but possibly most immersive offering.
Still, only half of Luxury Problems chronicles Stott's newfound fascination with his vocal collaborator, leaving room for the man's more established instrumental fare on the record's other four efforts. While "Sleepless" and "Expecting" are entrancing voyages into the darkest sides of Stott's methodical, textured techno, "Luxury Problems" and "Up the Box" are appropriately more adventurous. The latter—which does eventually feature just a touch of vocals at its edges—somehow employs a lethargic, almost disco beat at its base, while the former reassembles classic D&B-style breaks into a five-minute rhythmic exercise that is simultaneously both tribal and dreamy.
In a sense, this LP is all over the map—Stott doesn't hesitate to completely shift his stylistic aims from one track to the next. Still, there is an overall cohesion that runs through the record, in part due to its creator's command over his dense sonic constructions, as well as his steadfast dedication to the chugging rhythms of slow-motion dub techno. Luxury Problems may not be as unbelievably mysterious and engrossing as his pair of 2011 EPs, We Stay Together and Passed Me By, but his craft is just as sharp here, and the results just as worthy of intense, continuous listening.