"Faith in Strangers", by Andy Stott.
This is a difficult one. Andy Stott's last album, "Luxury Problems" (them's the best kind of problems), was perfect in almost every way. His new album, "Faith in Strangers", runs a little harder on the abstract/experimental/oblique axis. Me being a primarily meat-and-spuds kind of guy, I am finding it a bit difficult to get my teeth into. In large measure, I can admire it a lot more than I find myself liking it. At least, at this early stage.
It is an album that has an interesting structure. (Like Nicolas Jaar's "Space Is Only Noise", with which it might have quite a bit in common, it is difficult to decide whether it is a collection of songs or one contiguous song comprised of various not-always-cohesive parts.) It starts off very impressively. The first track, "Time Away", is beatless and held together (to the extent that it is held together at all) by what sounds like a ship's foghorn. It is not quite like anything else I can think of. If Brian Eno did an album entitled "Music for Fog-bound Container Ships", it might sound like this. (Actually, that is an album I would like to hear.)
The second track, "Violence", drifts ominously (perhaps it's that title?) with the fleetingest vocal fragment and a very John Foxx-like synth motif until the first beat of the album (preceded by an even more ominous pulse) appears nine minutes after you first pressed play on the CD. And this is a "dance" album? (No, it most certainly is not.) But the beats build into a most unholy sequence of overdriven piledriver bludgeoning, which is bound to set off false readings on any nearby seismometer.
From there, if I'm being honest, my attention starts to drift somewhat. (This, I'm certain, is a criticism of me, not of the album.) But I was dragged back into the room with a start by the title track. It starts with a deep bass pulse. A very appealing skittering cymbal program kicks in next, joined by a simple snare pattern I may even have been able to write myself, whereupon an actual bass guitar emerges, unbelievably conjuring the precise sound, and feel, of the third Cure album, "Faith" (which will always be the Cure album for me). Alison Skidmore, the singer who made such a mark on "Luxury Problems", returns here, delivering, from a distance, something that sounds remarkably like -- gasp! -- a song. And that's all there is to it, really, but it is so striking as to leave one speechless.
Which leaves the final piece, "Missing", which takes the album out with waves of abstracted synths and the most ghostly, oppressive (and yet lyrical as all heck) double bass I think I have ever heard. (This could also be on the above-mentioned hypothetical Eno record.)
It is, clearly, an album that is going to require work. But you know how sometimes you can just tell that, even though you don't quite get what is going on yet, the effort is going to be worth it? So I can't at this stage include it in my albums of the year (coming soon!: be still your beating heart), but it might well land high up in an albums of the decade list. (Though I'm not sure which decade.)