I have to confess that I hadn’t been aware of Jon Hopkins until his involvement in the recent Luminous festival in Sydney. I’ve clearly been missing out. Insides is quite a remarkable album. Hopkins’ instrument of choice is the piano, via which he got into keyboards and then production, and the piano has a large role to play on the album. But where piano/electronics combinations would normally have me thinking of unbearable chill-out, Hopkins avoids such problems entirely.
Starting with ‘The Wider Sun’, a small string ensemble piece, Insides is captivating from the outset. Some glissando runs undermine the classical-ness of the piece, while the ending dissolves real strings into synthetic ones, darkening the tone and hinting at the journey to follow. The next handful of tracks flirt with dubstep production techniques and rhythms with some mighty dirty basslines cutting swathes through the title track in particular, counterpointed by whispered female voice samples and the ever present melodies of the acoustic piano. Album centrepiece, ‘Light Through The Veins’ is a joyful nine minute trek, almost nostalgic for 90s electronica in its mellower pulse, endlessly cyclical chord pattern and truly peaceful coda. Following this is a series of more low-key explorations. The dampening pedal of Hopkins’ piano is particularly evident in the ending to ‘The Low Places’, where the sound of the actual instrument – the bits of wood and metal – become as important as the notes and performance. ‘Small Memory’ is almost a solo piano interlude, the exquisitely recorded instrument with its room apparent and what sounds like the subtlest of backgound electronic harmonics.
Insides defies genre categorisation, running from aggressive dancefloor workout to the sweetest of solo instrument lullabies. Yet it is a singular vision with pieces melodically intertwined and emotionally consistent, the results of which are an outstanding album.