When thinking about the music of Jon Hopkins it’s hard to remember a time when he wasn’t releasing music. His debut album ‘Opalescent’ came out in 2001 and immediately separated him from the majority of electronic artists. Instead of going for hulking beats and big room cheers, he was crafting something that wasn’t ambient, chillout, downtempo or biomusic but something that taps into all of them, whilst sounding totally originally and exciting. 2010’s ‘Small Craft On A Milk Sea’ with Brian Eno and Leo Abrahams took these ideas and pushed them as far as anything Hopkins had put his name to at that time. 2013’s ‘Immunity’ felt like a career high. His latest album ‘Music for Psychedelic Therapy’ feels like culmination of everything he’s previously put out, whilst (like all his best work) not really sounding like Hopkins at all.
When I first read the title, I was slightly worried. Over the past few decades psychedelic has come to be a dirty word, used to cover boring guitar rock and insipid electronica. But fear not. There are no ‘psych’ tropes here. Instead, Hopkins has crafted nine pieces of music that were the soundtrack to clinical psychedelic trials. Buy the ticket; take the ride, indeed. The album was conceived after Hopkins was invited on a cave expedition under the Amazon rainforests in Ecuador where he was to conceive a piece of music inspired by the experience. It was one of the most terrifying, and peaceful, experiences of Hopkins’ life. Over 10 days the party lived in the darkness of the caves. At the time Hopkins didn’t realise that he was working on a new album. He thought that piece of music was a one-off, but he kept returning to its themes again and again.
‘Music For Psychedelic Therapy’ opens with ‘Welcome’. As the title suggests, we are ushered into the album with open arms. We are also given hints of what to expect. No beats or real basslines feature, instead gently cascading opalescent synths rain on us while haunting chimes keep us on our toes. While the music is soothing it isn’t an easy listen. There is plenty going on that demands our attention. ‘Deep In The Glowing Heart’ is one of the most vulnerable songs Hopkins has ever written. It has nods to Eno, but it is more than a pastiche. Throughout you can get a sense of sadness, which is prevalent at these times, but with also shards of hope.
The standout track is the album’s closer ‘Sit Around The Fire’. Hopkins’ music is as ethereal as anything on the album. The difference comes from the collaboration with East Forest and the vocal recording of American spiritual teacher Ram Dass. The story goes that Hopkins was contacted by East Forest who had spent some time with the Dass before he died. East Forest has some recordings of lesser-known lectures Dass had delivered in the 1970s and after sending them to Hopkins asked if he would set them to music. Hopkins added some of his own vocals to the recordings, put on some headphones while seated at a piano and pressed play. ‘Sit Around The Fire’ is essentially Hopkins improvising while listening to this lecture. For eight and a half minutes we are transported to another place. It reminds me a bit of the Carl Sagan 7” for Third Man Records, in how the music is there to emphasise the worlds and elevate them, rather than to show off the proficiently of the players. It ends the album on a delightfully thoughtful note.
There is nothing worse than finishing an album and either immediately moving on to something else or not really remembering what you’ve been playing. With ‘Music for Psychedelic Therapy’ you are left pondering the deeper meanings of Hopkins’ playing, and the true meaning of Dass’ words. Long after I finished playing ‘Music For Psychedelic Therapy’ I was still trying to work it out. So much so that I played it straight away to try and delve deeper into it. The album isn’t ambient, chillout, downtempo, classical, drone, or bio-music but what, like all of Hopkins best work, it distils those into something breath-taking. Here, he has pushed himself into new directions while keeping true to himself, and his back catalogue. This is Hopkins’ strongest album to date. It is also his bravest. Which is saying something indeed.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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