The vanguard club sounds of the past decade have tended to favor gleaming surfaces and vivid shapes rendered in crisp high definition, affording dazzling visions of the technological sublime. Andy Stott’s It Should Be Us is a report from the opposite extreme. No spotless chrome expanses, rippling LED arrays, or algorithmic pulses here: The Manchester producer takes us deep into the catacombs to explore a vision of club music at its most damaged—of busted samplers, waterlogged wax, cracked cement, and lumpy sandbags. None of this is new for Stott; he’s been mining the vein for nearly a decade now. But It Should Be Us might be his most provocative attempt yet to throw a shovel of dirt on the idea of techno-futurist utopia.
It has been three years since Stott’s last LP, Too Many Voices, and eight since he put out a pair of consecutive double-packs that radically redefined the sound that, until then, he had shared with many of his Modern Love labelmates—a nuanced, warehouse-ready strain of techno that balanced Detroit’s expressive release with Berlin’s dub atmospheres. Passed Me By and We Stayed Together pulled the rug out from beneath dance-music convention, slowing the tempo to a rickety crawl and wrapping his synths in a layer of grit. It was less deconstruction than exhumation, with zombie beats trudging dully forward, dead-eyed and caked in earth.
Stott reached his peak with Luxury Problems and Faith in Strangers, infusing slow-motion techno with hints of goth and bass music; at its best—particularly on songs featuring the vocalist Alison Skidmore—the results suggested the lo-fi trap remix of This Mortal Coil you never knew you needed. On the slightly scattered Too Many Voices, it sometimes felt like Stott couldn’t decide where to go from there—to choose light or shadow, movement or stasis—but with It Should Be Us, he plunges straight into the wreckage and never looks back.
If the new record is billed as an EP, despite its length (eight tracks on the 2×12″, nine on the digital release), it might be because these feel less like songs than experiments in pushing Stott’s habitual techniques to the breaking point. Agonizingly slow machine beats shuffle like a shackled convict, their syncopated accents turned painfully halting. It’s not just the pace: The sound design also contributes to the mood of mortal exhaustion. Stott’s basslines are hardly recognizable as such—less a progression of notes than a mournful shrug. A synth lead might be a broken foghorn or a swarm of bees; pads droop listlessly, like vines after the first frost.
Stott’s sound palette has always veered toward distressed textures, but on It Should Be Us, the quality of his drums—a kind of powdery crinkle, diffuse and ill-formed—sounds almost like he’s been sampling 32-kbps stream rips. Hi-hats rustle like a sticky wad of cellophane; bass drums don’t so much kick as cough, heaving like diseased lungs. We tend to associate lo-fi techniques with analog tools: things like tube distortion and vinyl hiss that, for whatever reason, contemporary listeners tend to find satisfying on a gut level. Not many artists have waded into the waters of digital lo-fi yet. Stott’s wheezing, phased shakers don’t always sound pleasing to the ear, but that might be part of the point.
He’s clearly out to disorient us. Again and again, his beats challenge your ability to parse them: Snares, claps, and cymbals thrash and jerk according to a logic that seemingly only they understand. Then the kick drum drops and all the stray elements seem to snap into place around it. Sometimes his beats can be truly devious: “Ballroom” drags itself out of the gate like a wounded animal until a wordless vocal loop sets the true tempo somewhere way up in footwork territory. Even then, the collision of arrhythmic woodblocks and rapid-fire hiccups resists any attempts to make sense of it, suggesting a caffeine high gone dangerously wrong.
What’s missing from It Should Be Us are the moments of beauty that defined Luxury Problems and Faith in Strangers. Stott has backed away from the airy vocals and the muscular post-punk that, combined, made songs like the latter album’s title track so compelling, and he hasn’t quite figured out how to replace them. Here, the pitched-down vocals often sound like placeholders for a fresher, more distinctive idea; Burial and his imitators have already wrung that trope pretty dry. But at the level of rhythm, texture, and atmosphere, It Should Be Us marks a step into the unknown. Most promisingly, it takes post-punk’s bleak worldview and reformats it for the 21st century, mimicking corrupt files to create a new music of technological failure. Stott’s enervated club music, a fitting way to cap a decade of increasing fatigue, doubles as a timely reminder that our apps won’t save us.