Jon Hopkins is a musical shapeshifter: a composer, pianist and a self-taught studio wizard. He makes affecting, bold electronic music using walls of synths, lustrous melodies and amorphous bass rumbles. As such his two albums have seen him labelled by the likes of ambient patriarch Brian Eno as an electronic innovator while an impressive sweep of artists from Herbie Hancock and David Holmes to King Creosote and Coldplay, have called upon his handiwork as a producer and composer.
In fact, Coldplay were so taken with Light Through the Veins - which is earmarked as the first single from Hopkins’ new album Insides - that they used a reworked version to bookend last year's bestselling Viva La Vida and persuaded the 28-year-old Londoner to spend the last six months of 2008 opening their live shows across the USA and Europe.
Insides is more confident than its predecessors, showcasing Hopkins' intriguing musical aesthetic to brilliant effect. His ethereal compositions transcend genres, melding digital coldness with subtle, bucolic textures; veering from simple elegance to strange, unsettling sonic depths. Hopkins' artfully constructed palette of rhythmic loops and treated piano can be partly explained by his unusual adolescence; he was a child piano prodigy before discovering the bleeps and beeps of dance music. In his west London bedroom he balanced a teen obsession with acid house, early hardcore and grunge alongside weekend piano tutorials at the Royal College of Music. At 16 he flitted between the twilight stoner world of drum'n'bass pirate radio and German label Recycle or Die's hypnotic electronica, and the classical discipline of playing a Ravel piano concerto.
His first album, 2001's Opalescent, was written in a Wembley bedsit while he jobbed as a session musician. Although he was still naive about rave culture and its comedowns, Opalescent unwittingly tapped into a cultural shift as rave morphed into a more downtempo sound. A collection of instrumental songs with an escapist feel, it earned him a cult following among the electronica cognoscenti.
His second outing, Contact Note (2004), was more enticing still: a cinematic, layered work with a harder experimental edge, it earned Hopkins comparisons to, and praise from, Brian Eno. An introduction to the sonic alchemist lead to sessions that were later released as part of Eno's Another Day on Earth, and subsequently to Hopkins working alongside Eno as an additional producer on Coldplay's Viva La Vida. A stint producing Scottish folkie King Creosote's Bombshell lit the touchpaper for the genuinely exploratory electronica of his forthcoming new album.
Insides moves on from the cold clinical accuracy of earlier, more rigidly sequenced work, to a drifting, wordless electronica that has a seductive intimacy. Opener The Wider Sun is a slow, layered violin lament that conjures a rural idyll, gently melting into softly pulsating electronics. The likes of Vessel and title track Insides have a more ominous quality, infused with a particularly British strain of melancholy. Their delicate melodies mutate into bass heavy oscillations that wouldn't be out of place at an east London dubstep night, or even accompanying avant-garde choreography - the first half of Insides formed the score to Wayne McGregor’s recent contemporary dance production Entity, which has been touring the world since its premiere last year at Sadler’s Wells.
As each track segues seamlessly into the next, thunderous claustrophobic frequencies are offset by familiar sounds - the submerged noise of cars on the street, birdsong - and cold currents of melody that open a window and let the day back in. First single, Light Through the Veins (27th April 2009), is all but perfect: drawing the listener in with each pure, serpentine note. None of which is to say that Insides is cerebral music for art boffs. It's hardly even a dance record. Instead it's about juxtaposition: natural, arcane textures welded to uneasy rhythms, beautiful acoustic melodies set against jarring bass. Above all, Insides is an audacious album which boasts a magical aura all of its own.