Switched On – Jon Hopkins: Music for Psychedelic Therapy (Domino)

jon-hopkins

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

After two albums driven by rhythm (Immunity and Singularity) Jon Hopkins had the wish to branch out in a different musical direction, turning his focus away from a ‘cosmic party or a set of festival bangers’.

His musical direction took him to a more classical approach, with no electronic drums in evidence and a musical language operating under much larger structures. Hopkins has openly admitted that the resultant workings are “more emotionally honest than I had been comfortable making before”, and has talked about the liberation of being cast free of traditional rhythmic structures.

The music was recorded in the dark of winter in early 2021, looking for brightness amongst the gloom. It is instructive to hear from the composer again: “Psychedelic-assisted therapies are moving into legality across the world, and yet it feels like no one is talking about the music. but the music is as important as the medicine.”

What’s the music like?

Right from the start it is clear Jon Hopkins is ploughing a very different furrow with this album. A treble-rich texture, with the regular ‘tsing’ of a tuning fork, sets out a scene more like the beginning of an extended yoga or pilates session. Woozy background textures blend with primary colours in the foreground, as musical phrases make themselves loosely known.

There is an immediate warmth to Hopkins’ musical language, and as we move into Tayos Caves, Ecuador i, the natural world takes over. A rush of water places the listener right in the middle of the action, with drips from the ceiling of the cave, a torrent of constant spray and the calling of a bird. The simplest of drones and long, drawn out phrases is added by Hopkins, but here we are all travelling together well beyond the studio.

We are in fact in the first part of a near 20-minute suite in three parts, which gradually introduces the thick ambience more common to Hopkins’ earlier work. The second part is a single, slowly shifting melodic sequence, while the third brings in a resonant treble sound. The structure is ideally paced, the listener slowing to the natural rhythms of the cave.

The album takes on the form of an entirely through-composed affair, lending weight to Hopkins’ observation of the similarity with classical music forms. Love Flows Over Us In Prismatic Waves is every bit as serene and comforting as its title suggests, while Deep In The Glowing Heart is the resultant balm, sat squarely in the tonal centre we have occupied for the last half-hour.

Such slow-moving music has a deep, rapturous message to the listener, and the more you become immersed in Hopkins world, the more intense the session. Ascending, Dawn Sky takes a step back, surveying the scene from a greater distance with the cool lapping of a quiet piano, and segues gently into Arriving, where the sound of chimes is complemented with a softly humming vocal – the nearest we get to words on the album so far. It is in effect a gentle warning for Sit Around The Fire, where we get the closing thoughts of Ram Dass, who speaks on the importance of inner connection in the company of meditative thoughts from musician East Forest. If Hopkins’ music has done its job, that has already been achieved.

Does it all work?

It does. Hopkins has a natural instinct for large structures but can also break them into smaller units, so there is enough going on in the short and the long term to keep the listener compelled. The hour passes just like a yoga session, so you may arrive feeling fraught and stressed, but you will leave with your mind on a higher plane.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Jon Hopkins has been threatening this album ever since he signed to Domino, and it is gratifying to see him make it. A document for our stress-filled times.

Stream

Buy

You can listen to clips from the album and purchase in CD or download form at the Domino website

 

Playlist – Sound of Mind

With the world in such a weird place at the moment, now seems like a good time to share a playlist of ambient music to ease the mind.

This one, homemade on the hoof, includes some personal favourites from Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Brian Eno, The Orb and a whole lot more:

I hope you enjoy it – and if you have any suggestions for future playlists please get in touch. Happy to do a whole load more!

Ben Hogwood