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.