No one’s album covers match their music quite like Andy Stott’s. The elegant, black-and-white artwork on all of his records feels like the natural extension of his moody, romantic sound world. There’s something noirish and arcane about his music—it’s bleak, often desolate, but never cold or lifeless. There is a lightness of touch that keeps it from feeling stale. Usually, it’s the vocals of Alison Skidmore — his former piano teacher and longtime collaborator — that prove to be the magic ingredient. They lend a swooning, majestic aura to Stott’s gothic, minutiae-obsessed sound palette. They make it come alive.
On the Manchester-based producer’s latest LP, Never the Right Time, Skidmore’s presence is more felt than on any of Stott’s previous records. Throughout the album, her cooing soprano offsets crackling dub, liminal bass, and slivers of interference. Her voice gives warmth and depth to songs like “Don’t Know How”, with its clicks, cuts, and glitches, or the title track, where the kick drums sound like they’re on the verge of explosion. Frequently, her vocals are so remote they sound suspended in space and time — almost disembodied or happening somewhere above and beyond the music itself.
As for Stott, he continues to go harder, faster, and grimmer. Never the Right Time takes the damaged beats and washed-out dub of 2019’s It Should Be Us to even darker places. This is an LP of chopped-and-screwed techno and bass-heavy ballast. Take the deconstructed club of “Answers”, where Stott hits us with manic, off-kilter kick drums and a throbbing sub-bass groove. This isn’t techno—it’s the sound of tectonic plates shifting. It’s like a Demdike Stare track gone hopelessly awry and in a good way. A similar thing happens on “Repetitive Strain”, where quick bursts of manic percussion give way to scintillating arpeggios. The drums have a delayed, stuttering rhythm on both of these tracks, twisting the song structures into knots and disorienting all sense of time.
That’s not to say Never the Right Time is all chopped-and-screwed bombast, though. The beautifully understated “Dove Stone” offers a much-needed comedown from “Answers”, with its liquid keyboards and mournful ambience. And the closer, “Hard to Tell”, is perhaps the most elegant piece on the record. It pairs muted drums and spindly guitar flecks with faint traces of Skidmore’s soprano. Moments like this break new ground for Stott, whose last few albums have seen him plunge deeper and deeper into glitchy obscurantism. The guitar, in particular, is a welcome addition, giving several of the tracks here a more laidback, organic vibe. It’s almost like he’s recording it all live, peeling the back the layers of interference and baring the music’s heart and soul.
Like the best Andy Stott albums, such as Luxury Problems and Too Many Voices, even the glitchiest and most disorienting moments here are tinged with a somber, romantic hue. Just like the greyscale album art, with its shadowy contours and gulls borne aloft, Never the Right Time is bleak, but not unforgivingly so. Stott’s latest may be the most inviting record in his catalogue, perhaps even an entry point into his funereal sound-world. It’s also one of his best.