Coming less than six months after Passed Me By, Andy Stott’s follow-up We Stay Together has much to prove. After several years of dub techno productions following a more standard 120bpm template, Passed Me By was a murky exploration of sub 100bpm tempos, with bass frequencies washed out by swampy compression and rhythms comprised of heaving kick drums, grimy handclaps and hi-hats whose lurching pace evoked a sensation of continental drift. It was a record that required patience, but if you had the time to absorb its monotone variations there was a staggering amount of detail and beauty to be found beneath its dense layers of doom laden sludge. Passed Me By’s artwork, an early black and white photograph of an African tribesman, evoked a colonial-era mistrust of “primitive” civilisations, perhaps an ironic nod to the fact that Stott’s stripped down style highlights the inherent African rhythmic influence in much contemporary bass and techno. We Stay Together‘s artwork is much less obviously provocative; a seated tribesman in a more casual pose whose masked appearance nevertheless evokes a more creeping sense of dread. It’s difficult to describe what makes We Stay Together so subtly different to its predecessor, but in a sense the difference between these two images is perhaps the best way to approach it; as a less aggressive, but no less confrontational record; a record with the same creaking structure, but one that allows you to sink into its cracks rather than be buoyed up by a tectonic sense of movement. Nobody could ever say that Passed Me By was exactly peak time, but this record makes its immediate predecessor’s sharp, syncopated rhythms look sprightly by comparison.
The record begins with “Submission”, a five-minute long introduction akin to the sonorous wash of Fennesz. Skillfully blending field recordings of the ocean with sleek pads and just the right amount of metallic grit, it sets the pace for the rest, drawing you into a hypnotic state of artificial bliss. This is further built on in “Posers”, where the spaces between its languid, trance inducing thump seem filled with the sounds of creaking icebergs; the curious landscape’s only humanity being offered by a bit-crushed vocal disco loop. For a brief moment it shocks you out of Stott’s marshmallow like textural construction, but it’s not long before you are sucked back into its torpor. The seven minute long “Bad Wires” which follows is a haze of ghostly hi-hats smudged out by what feels like an acrid sense of pressure, its sheer weight pushing down in atmospheres. It’s a stark contrast to “We Stay Together (Part One)”, which has a significantly less oppressive feel, but one that is nonetheless haunted by a demonic vocal presence which snaps away from beneath. Somewhere within, an 80s pop sample is audible through a ton of distortion, but unlike the sample use in Passed Me By’s “Intermittent” which offered a brief moment of saccharine respite, this does not. It highlights the crushing sense of sadness that pervades the record, almost as if in the process of making this record Stott depleted all the serotonin he may have had left after completing Passed Me By.
The last two tracks take us further down Stott’s dark path – the resonating, monolithic sounds of “Cherry Eye” recall the iceberg movements of “Posers”, but with a distant jet engine attached to them, while closer “Cracked” begins with the kind of percussion that sounds like it could have been recorded in a bottling factory, with its closing dub chords offering some comforting familiarity. You may expect a record like this to offer a sense of relief at its end, but Stott’s unique sonic world, bleak as it may be, offers a pace that allows breathing space, and an apocalyptic beauty that’s asking to be explored. As such, We Stay Together is one record most will want to retreat straight back into.