Andy Stott has always been a stylistically nimble artist. Dark and dubby has often been his thing, but he's moved around within that framework quite a bit, making straightforward dub techno under his own name and more bass-inflected sounds as Andrea. He even toyed with juke at one point. In 2011, some five years into his recording career, he started homing in on something much stranger and more personal. Passed Me By and We Stay Together, two mini-albums released five months apart, sounded like old Andy Stott records played too slow, with lo-fi production and dirge-like rhythms that chugged along somewhere in the 100 BPM region. This new style had the Manchester native sounding more Mancunian than ever, with an odd combination of semi-danceable rhythms and existential dread that recalled old Joy Division records. With Luxury Problems, Stott brings this sound to maturity by breathing just a bit more life into the formula than he has before.
Luxury Problems has all the hallmarks of its two predecessors, namely the drab atmosphere and sluggish rhythms. But it also has more conventional beauty than those records, thanks in part to fantastic vocals from his old piano teacher, Alison Skidmore. It's tempting to think of her as the missing ingredient in Stott's reinvented sound; in equal parts mournful and seductive, sometimes even operatic, she gives his music a sexy and haunting feel that makes you think of Portishead or Massive Attack. Stott's music, in all of its exquisite gloom, has long stood up on its own, but it still benefits enormously from this bold addition.
Skidmore is by no means the only thing carrying Luxury Problems, however—Stott too is at his absolute best throughout the album. His palette is less smudged than it has been recently, creating a sound that's somehow as lush as it is monochrome (not unlike the record's striking sleeve design). His knack for clever applications of reverb and delay gives his music a powerful visual element, drawing up a grim landscape of cold winds, wet gravel and rusted machinery. The beats are also funkier than usual, with groaning basslines and breaky highs that give the whole thing more bounce than We Stay Together or Passed Me By. That said, the album is still quite understated: all of the (relatively) climactic bits are separated by long drumless passages (most don't kick until a minute or two in) so it maintains a brooding and ambient feel while still packing a punch when it needs to—a balance Stott has been working at for years, and nails perfectly here.
It's possible that Stott's post-2010 sound is just a chapter in a continually evolving style, but with Luxury Problems it somehow feels more permanent than that. Though he's had plenty of strong releases in the past, this one has the inspired feeling of an artist truly finding his footing—a breakthrough, in other words. Whatever the case may be, most of his fans would probably be perfectly happy if he carried on like this forever.