The critics who ranked Insides as one of the best electronic music albums of 2009 surely must be going nuts for Immunity, since it takes everything that was great about that album – its intricacy and spell-casting abilities – and quadruples it within a much different and even more immediately appealing setting. There’s a ghostly quality to the whole album which speaks to Jon Hopkins’ ambient roots, much as the compositional strength of every track speaks to his education as a classical pianist. The album’s overall melodic sense reminds us that in between Insides and this, Hopkins released a marvelous collaboration with King Creosote, Diamond Mine, which turned his bittersweet, eccentric folk songs into moody, modern soundscapes. That said, this is not “electronic classical”; nor is it pure ambient music or ambient-flavored pop songs. It’s dance music.
It takes about 25 seconds into Immunity for a proper club beat to enter the picture. There are recognizably ‘club’ tempos and rhythms across the album. They’re the driving force behind opener “We Disappear”, the first single “Open Eye Signal”, “Collider” and the sun-dappled 12-minute epic “Sun Harmonics”. Within these songs’ evocation of dancefloors you can hear nods towards so many variations on electronic dance music from the last couple decades – house, techno, and pop “electronica” stars like Chemical Brothers, Moby, etc.
Yet these songs are both different from each other and different from all of those templates, because of how well Hopkins creates distinct moods. It might be a cliché to say it, but there is a lot going on in each of these songs. He gets you lost in the forward motion of a track and then piles on interesting and unusual sounds, melodic phrases and passing feelings. As body-oriented as these songs are, they’re impressively interior in the impression they leave. Everyone is dancing, but also in their own heads, lost in thoughts and feelings that are hard to explain to another human being.
For all of the moments that Immunity resembles straight-up dance music, there are just as many where those cloudy waves of strange emotion take over, the pace slows down, the bodies in the room disappear and the mood gets weird. Hopkins is constantly switching back and forth between modes. For an album with a lot of hard-driving motion, there is a surprising amount of slow-motion glimpses of light and shadow. On the spellbinding “Abandon Window”, for example, they’re conveyed through piano that cautiously steps forward while synthesized clouds of sound grow and shift in the background. Other times, like on “Breathe This Air”, he’ll take so much time getting to the beat that it can’t help but imbue the “dance” section of the song with questions and curiosity.
By the 10-minute closing title track, which features King Creosote singing sweet nothings, Immunity has traversed enough territory – a lot of it more emotional than you expect, some of it quite athletic – to make you feel like the hour-long album is more of an epic than it is. While the tracks do expand, growing before your ears from what you first think they are about to much more, they also are small, in the best of ways. Hopkins is working on large-scale art but also in miniature, focusing our ears in on small details while stretching everything out to an impressive degree.