Andy Stott Offers an Excitingly Different Take on His Trademarks with 'Never the Right Time'
Published Apr 15, 2021When surveying Andy Stott's musical trajectory, 2012's Luxury Problems stands like a monolith. With the masterful manipulation of his one-time piano teacher Alison Skidmore's vocals, Stott introduced the dangers of the heart into his bassed-out, inverted club bangers. While that human element has proved undeniable — Skidmore has been present on every Stott full-length since — it is all too easy to mistake the appearance of vocals as some singular watershed moment in Stott's artistic development. Just as crucial is what happened a year earlier, with the release of twin EPs Passed Me By and We Stay Together.
Stott had already been a mainstay of the techno scene in Manchester, but those two EPs presented a vision of dance music that had undergone a massive perspectival shift. Hyper-focused on sound design, Stott suddenly sounded like he'd been zeroing in on half-bars of his earlier club tracks and stretching their pulse and frequencies as far across the dance floor as he could. This was music on the brink, a sound that risked collapse. The monochromatic album covers, a mainstay for Stott ever since, also made clear to the audience that Stott was now a sound sculptor. His sense of groove still firmly intact, Stott was nevertheless more interested in introducing and shaping a musical form across a track then going through the dancefloor motions.
Never the Right Time is excitingly different, if inconsistent. The well-known pillars of Stott's sound still underpin much of what happens across the album's nine tracks, yet the way those pillars are occasionally arranged have made way for new kinds of space. The grimy bass lines, forlorn vocals, skittering drum machines and smokestack ambience of albums past are all still there, but Stott has renegotiated their relationships. The album's most evocative moments sound like the jam-space recordings of a post-punk or dream pop band that had stolen away with Stott's synth patches.
Grooves are looser, melodies wander tentatively before settling, and vocal phrases omit words until there is finally some comfortable sonic footing on which to rest. The pick scrapes and bass notes that open the album would be equally fitting coming from a live band taking hold of their instruments and sound-checking momentarily before launching into their set. Standout track "The beginning" has a swagger to it not often possible in electronic music, irrespective of whether it was made on software or hardware.
Stott has hinted at this direction before. 2014's Faith in Strangers introduced rock-like applications of the bass guitar into the mix, and 2016's Too Many Voices significantly dialled down the haze of earlier albums for a more spacious and pop-oriented approach. Indeed, Never the Right Time suffers from sounding a bit too much like its predecessor. "Never the right time" and "Answers" would not be out of place on Too Many Voices and are by far the album's least compelling cuts. Nevertheless, Stott has once again found new ways to squeeze more surprises out of his palette, and hopefully not the last in a long line of permutations. (Modern Love)