I was introduced to Jon Hopkins while watching the organ donor scene in the series finale of NBC’s Mercy. The scene was accompanied by a droning violin track, the kind of bagpipe-emulating, medieval-viol-esque drone I have been known to bust out on my own fiddle ever since I was started getting into celtic music about 15 years ago. I knew this television soundtrack piece was just of a higher caliber; I suspected it was not the product of the house composer, so I pulled out Shazam and it told me it was the first track from Jon Hopkins’s album Insides. After sampling the tracks in iTunes on my iPhone, I downloaded the album, and it went on to become a fitting soundtrack to the birth of my son, Baxter.
This album compelled me to bust out my Sony MDR-7506’s (which make my iPhone look bad-ass, by the way). I had actually gotten used to the Apple earbuds since my old original iPhone couldn’t interface with anything else.)
This is not your run-of-the-mill DJ. Though he admits he doesn’t remember how to write scores,* Jon Hopkins is a legitimate composer, like the next incarnation of Steve Reich–sans tape loops–coming of age in a time when Macbooks and affordable M-Audio controllers are readily available to the masses. Lucky…
He even studied at the Royal College of Music, and it shows. From end-to-end, this album is like an orchestral suite; if he doesn’t literally repeat themes, he uses themes and textures that remind you of previous “movements”. Even the “disgruntled brutally gutteral bass growl”* of the title track “Insides” expresses itself in sonata form like a bass concerto transposed for electronic sequencer. Full disclosure: I don’t like bass concertos. They’re not usually very cool. But this track is. Probably because it’s easier to bust out the vibrato and wide interval jumps more quickly and precisely with a sequencer than on a bass.
The previously-mentioned opening track, “The Wider Sun”, is definitely my favorite. But as they all flow together in sequence, I wouldn’t separate it from the album. The strings help to give it a chamber-music feel, and the familiar arpeggios, whether played by piano throughout the album, or with pizzicato strings on “The Low Places”, help you to keep your bearings through the tempest. The album’s closing tracks come together to wrap the whole in a blanket of hymns, like Ave Maria putting Night on Bald Mountain to rest at the end of Fantasia. “Small Memory” begins the lullaby. A rhythm dance groove rises quietly over minimalistic tenuto strings and piano in “A Drifting Up”. Phillip Glass and John Adams would be proud. Speaking of Ave Maria, the album closes with the final track, “Autumn Hill”, a piano piece which I think is reminiscent of Schubert himself. You can even hear the piano bench creak as he sits down!
I recommend this album to music afficionados who have a taste for the more modern stuff. I do have one regret, however: downloading it from iTunes instead of purchasing a tangible, durable disc means I’m left without liner notes.