The singular, aesthetic impression that an instrument like the piano can accomplish is fully magical. A near-image of all that is beautiful in our world, it is responsible for many of our most memorable pieces. Try playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor (popularly titled “Moonlight” Sonata) or any of Scott Joplin’s piano rags on a guitar or maybe on a wind instrument; it just isn’t the same. And when one is able to create and craft equally memorable music on a piano, well, it’s just something special.
With Insides, Jon Hopkins has done just that, because with his virtuosic playing and composing-not to mention his impeccable electronic skills-Insides is a gorgeous album. Combining classical melodies in the vein of Chopin, Liszt and Mozart with downtempo beats and furious waves of pounding pulsations, Hopkins has found a way to hone in on an already exceptional instrument and has made the best music of his career.
Take album closer, “Autumn Hill,” initiated by a melody that showcases repetitive broken chords on the left hand, Hopkins delivers a reflective sensation with his right hand. With only the sounds of chirping birds to support him, Hopkins tapers his dynamics, tempo and overall tone to a closing halt and as he holds the pedal until the very end, we are left with only those aforementioned birds. On “Small Memory,” he shapes pristine chords that are maneuvered into such a calming force-whatever that memory may be, we are left to apply our own imaginative personalization. Passing notes glide through the tonic and dominant and with a plagal cadence around the corner, the resolution is finite.
Luckily, working and touring with Coldplay hasn’t hindered his ability and skill in any way. His work with Brian Eno has only improved his ear for tonality and song structure. The melodies and capability were always there and now with all of the other facets coming full-circle, Hopkins is at the top of his game.
The centerpiece of the album, “Light Through the Veins,” begins as a nine-note melody before growing into a flourishing, majestic, gorgeous array of sounds. Hopkins notes that it took over three weeks to finish and upon completion, contains about 800 sounds and is layered over 128 tracks. Climactic and ultimately magnificent, it pulsates with a fantastic energy that never lets up and with a wall of synths, keyboards, drums, strings and piano, it’s fitting that it be the main course on Insides.
The musicianship is what truly makes Hopkins and his music such an engrossing listen. The opening of “The Wider Sun” conjures the appropriate feelings to a hazy morning: optimistic and yet hesitant, it’s a reassuring, pleasing emotion that Hopkins conveys. This leads into the chilling piano of “Vessel,” which quickly turns into an abrasive fusion of clashing discord and a dissension of throbbing drums.
Fully-equipped with a gifted talent for melody, Hopkins’ electronic proficiency is tremendous. “Insides” sounds like the creepy opening to your favorite murder-investigation drama but with booming basses and drilling snares, it manifests into a completely different beast. Later, on “A Drifting Up,” Hopkins decorates the slow-build of his piano with trip-hop beats and clever atmospherics.
On a purely compositional level, this is dazzling and downright brilliant. But on a purely artistic level, Insides is a startling accomplishment. Not only is it absolutely outstanding but its effect is truely inspired; this is some mesmerizing stuff. It’s an album Hopkins should be proud of and one that should receive a lot of attention.