Review of Opalescent Album by Jon Hopkins

It's hard with the benefit of plenty of hindsight to perceive the early noughties as anything but a musical wasteland, an almost perma-nightmare inhabited by Nu-metal, Blink 182 and nerdy post-interesting guff from the likes of Turin Brakes and Kings of Convenience.

Jon Hopkins Opalescent Album

Obviously there was good stuff too, but whilst Eminem was re-inventing hip hop and System of A Down were doing likewise with the Speed/Thrash/Opera/Queen thing they did, as an art form during the turn of the century the listening world was riddled with endless retrograde dumbness, machismo and insecurity.

The man we now know as Jon Hopkins - whose 2013 release Immunity won him a Mercury Prize nomination - was barely 20 at the time, a former piano student at London's Royal College of Music

having cut his teeth performing with Imogen Heap before signing as a solo artist to the newly minted Just Music label. Hopkins set to work with collaborator Leo Abrahams, some rudimentary software and little else on what would become Opalescent, a man still in the process of defining himself, let alone understanding how to channel the processes and thought patterns by which to create definitive "Things".

Now being re-issued on vinyl prior to the release of Immunity's much anticipated successor, Opalescent's qualities are revealed as predictably less complex and honed, understandable given that since Hopkin has worked with Brian Eno, David Holmes and King Creosote whilst latterly opening up a sideline in scoring films. This isn't to say that the dozen pieces here lack depth, but the fibrous textures and multi-modal skew of his latter works aren't much in evidence other than in flashes via the ghostly loops of Cold Out There, or Lost In Thought's creeping sense of unease.

At the time this was a début clustered reasonably in with works by the folk at the top end of the well established chill out movement such as A Man Called Adam, Ultramarine and The Egg, although it was conceived in complete isolation from it. Even now it will work magic for connoisseurs; Fading Glow's wistful programming and whale song sound cheesy on paper but are full of Balearic warmth, closer Afterlife woozes in the pre-dawn haze, whilst the anthropomorphic Private Universe sounds like it should be playing to a visual backdrop of volcanoes, seascapes and soaring birds of prey. There are opportunities missed, such as a failure to allow the latter a more gargantuan lease of life to let it truly breathe - but they're certainly not enough to devalue any part of the exercise.

Usually harsh, time has had little weathering effect here. Opalescent instead allows the listener to savour a moment at the beginning of a career which has conformed to few patterns, one in which the restlessly creative Hopkins was rarely as content to be as orthodox as this. Most first steps are tentative - this is no exception.

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