Passed Me By
(Modern Love; 2011)
By George Bass | 18 July 2011
You wouldn’t expect a year off from the dub techno circuit to alter you, particularly if you’re one of its most revered stars. Andy Stott, presumed missing for the last twelve months, has returned swapping future sleekness for thorny, paranormal low-end, shot through with vocals which bring him closer in style to labelmates Demdike Stare. It’s not a major change but it is a significant one: anyone expecting the nocturnal looping he usually cooks up is in for a shock—Passed Me By is a jagged little tangent designed to make that warehouse seem spookier. Stott still sounds like someone using twin Technics in a pocket of sea mist, and his bass signatures are still primordial enough to make Chase & Status change their trousers, but there’s a streak of occult mischief in his work now, right from the broken boogie-woogie of the intro where it’s clear the next half hour will be interesting.
As opposed to the jet black/comparatively featureless monoliths he made his name with, Stott’s allowed his poker face to slip here, having fun with his newly amended rule book. “Execution” is his biggest deviation to date: a terrifying but rousing slab of fuzz, verses made of gas, the whole thing sulphurous. You can feel the conjured demon breathe as he’s trapped between drums, the rhythm swaggering like Lucifer in cut-offs. I’d think twice about listening to this alone in a tunnel, as I would its predecessor, the tranced-out “Dark Details.” This one mixes klaxons with the grunting from Paranormal Activity, the bit from the last video clip. There’s an evil, shredded bass line at work, too good for laptop speakers, and some manipulated voice recordings more fucked up than those noises recorded around Saturn. It’s precisely the kind of nightmare excavation his label go nuts for; a mix of designer fire alarm and a raver’s worst comedown, the beat in his head like an embarrassment.
Luckily Stott isn’t wholly set on forcing his listeners to sleep with the light on, and other tracks on the album focus more on general experimentation instead of terror. Specifically the first half, which seems focused on feeding a mic into the world’s slowest washing machine. The sleepy thump and penetrating rumble of “North to South” is built for scrutiny as well as head-nodding: just what in hell are those reversed compacted metal sounds, and how did Stott obtain them? Somewhere along the A1 there must be a scrapyard kitted out with audio pickups. The planet gets left behind altogether on “New Ground,” whose crispy depths feel like a message from a space capsule, or Burial with cataracts. It packs the kind of bass that deserves fitted warnings—“Play this in flats will have the police around faster than firing a pistol or not paying your road tax”—but Stott teases a beat out of the debris, helped again by a vocal loop that says, “Love you / Love you.”
It’s the addition of vocals that make Passed Me By so alluring, the icing that makes you try the strange cake underneath. The future pop and funk particles of tracks like “Intermittent” present a recognisable surface, R&B subjected to causality violation, but further listening reveals a sheer drop into total oblivion where only dub techno has survived. With it, Stott’s achieved that rare thing of evolving without severing any of his early quirks and trademarks, his thudding as rampant as it always was but now bathed in a sinister energy. Glowering lights and resolution on the title track show he’s still chasing the perfect beat; rasping ghouls and mushrooms everywhere else show he’s not thinking in straight lines anymore. It’ll be interesting to see if his equally reliable labelmates can sidestep expectation this well. Let’s see Echospace master the bongos, or Demdike Stare perform opera.