When Manchester’s Andy Stott dropped the Passed Me By EP in 2011, its sound was such a paradigm shift for the producer that it effectively obliterated all that had come before. A previous full-length and more than a dozen singles were rendered obsolete; this rang out as Stott’s “true” sound and self. The bruising and bleak dirges were diametrically opposed to the dub techno of his earlier work, its depth of bass aligned more with Sunn O))) and Demdike Stare. Through albums like Luxury Problems and Faith in Strangers, the silty sound palette evoked dour industrial spaces even as Stott let in more and more light, primarily by folding in the voice of his onetime piano teacher Alison Skidmore. Much like one of David Lynch’s blondes, she was the one beacon of light in human darkness.
For most of Too Many Voices, it sounds like the end of that cycle, suggesting that the grimy sonic template that defined Stott and earned him fans in noise and experimental circles the past five years ultimately might just be a phase itself rather than a final iteration. If anything, Stott sounds like Blue Velvet’s Jeffrey Beaumont, pulled between those two worlds, still dabbling in dark, abrasive textures while also moving towards something airier. “Butterflies” best exemplifies that split. On the hand it keeps the sluggish rhythm that underpinned his previous tracks. But rather than sounding weighted by granite it feels untethered, the beat landing like ping pong balls instead of boulders. A melody shrieks through, but the mood is no longer foreboding and the effect more enervating than haunting. And where Skidmore’s vocals once gave tracks such as this a thrilling contrast, against these thinner backdrops, now they are turned into mere wisps.
Elsewhere, the tracks feel unfinished, such as “Selfish,” wherein Stott takes a preset that sounds like a monkey wrench on cheap plastic. It’s the album’s trickiest beat, bringing to mind early dancehall, early ’00s grime and even a bit of Radiohead’s “Idioteque,” but Stott does very little with the beat or with Skidmore’s voice, just speeding up and slowing down both elements. ” The distorted beat of “On My Mind” and gaseous synths might be the start of something, but Stott seems reluctant to add layers in-between. The inverse applies to the title track, with Skidmore’s voice existing in multiples but with little around them. There’s plenty of low and high end, but none of the gray in-between. It makes for an album that sounds more like backing tracks missing the singer and the song to complete them. If anything, Too Many Voices sounds like it has too few.