Luxury Problems supports the idiom that good things come to those who wait, I ignored NPR’s ‘listen first’ feature and all the other opportunities to hear this elsewhere until my copy arrived and it was worth it, so refrain from judging me. Thank you.
‘Numb’ that came out earlier this year was a move to the serene and, one the whole, darker side of Stott’s sound pallet with its hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies. This is a finely crafted album full of innovation, although, some of the tropes of Passed Me By were retained such as the deep, heavy and reverberant percussion. ‘Numb’ certainly left a listener wanting more. But Stott does not limit Luxury Problems to sounding like reworked editions of Numb, structuring the album so there is a true progression in the sounds and features under the overall spacious, industrial rendering.
The second track on the album, ‘Lost and Found’, is darker, droning and more dissonant continuing with the gothic female vocal harmonies that first appear on ‘Numb’. The percussive work is a strong progression from the more minimal approach on ‘Numb’, having the deep thud of a kick drum. The basic drum track is developed with compressed, brittle and dry snare hits that get lifted up in some sections, only to be dropped to sink back into the deep and grainy ether of the mix. The dissonant morphing drone in the background reappears periodically: it is hard to immediately realise when it has gone because the space it leaves is immediately filled with larger percussion and/or vocals.
‘Sleepless’ is an eerie song, its opening thirty seconds are the undefined and empty sounds of abandoned spaces and grey mornings. It develops slowly into a deep techno composition but using refined versions of the sounds and noisy textures found in industrial music. Again though, attention has to be drawn to Stott’ ability to use detail effectively: the deep percussive fragments shift around in the distance but then it becomes apparent that what was a percussive loop is a vocal loop that opens out fully with brighter percussion and deep bass. Pretentious as it sounds to suggest this, ‘Sleepless’ keeps the most critical listener guessing about what is actually being heard.
‘Hatch the Plan’ has bass that would challenge the most powerful of speak set ups, low and undulating (not a wobble) it is distinct but compressed. The complex vocal harmonies return on here too; the vocals really make this album something else, although, in this particular track it does carry a slightly less ambitious percussive backbone; this is a denser, more minimalistic track.
‘Expecting’ is toned and finely textured managing to be fuzzy and sinister but opaque too: almost like waking up in a dystopian, nineteen sixties vision of the future. This opening sound-scape is blurred with the arrival of whooshing, swirling sound but returns to the same empty and ponderous hits and sounds from before. A shuddering bass kick enters organising the swirling, resonant sounds into a more coherent structure. The whole track has an impressive sense of scale, helped by the inclusion of brighter, tactile snaps and hits that push the drones and opaque sounds to the sides of the mix.
The title track ‘Luxury Problems’ moves into a higher register. It is still spacey, textured and huge, but the drum-track is faster and tripping with a close knit, trance inducing, bass line. Stott drops in some sections of perky keyboards and shiny percussion that produces a greater contrast and therefore greater awareness of the understated, low-key world he has drawn you into.
‘Up The Box’ is a percussion heavy track, the volume increases gradually, filling your ears and building your expectations until dead silence falls. But, your patience is rewarded, with a very organic sounding drum kit track that slowly turns into a dense, punchy electronic track as the mid and bass is increased. I can see this track being less favoured by critics but I found it a refreshing pallet cleanser, it was a good decision to put as the penultimate track.
The final track on here ‘Leaving’ has powerful synth bass notes to anchor the vocal work (- does anyone know who did the original vocals on here?); this song has quite a soundtrack feel to it. It’s a tense, neat track but it could have benefited by having a little more bass and density to it but a good closing track.
Did this live up to expectations? Essentially yes, it’s a darkly brilliant album. However, the final three tracks, although substantial do lack the gravitas of the rest of the album. That said, the vocal harmonies are as close to perfect as you can get and the percussion is the same textured excellence that Stott crafts with such care. It could well be an AOY for me.