Electronica is easily the spacetime model of music—splintered, mutated, highly complex in equation and made otherworldly through production. There’s the kind that has a mad scientist sensibility to it, as if every Aphex Twin and Flying Lotus song germinated in some far-off lab with dials, knobs and beakers of green solution. Break the pyrex, stir the contents of the petri dish, and if it doesn’t explode, you have a near-perfect track. When you’re finally ready to shake the vertigo, Tycho and Bibio bring it back to ground level with their twinkly bedroom loops and pastoral sound collages. Somewhere in between all of this—namely the forensics of intelligent dance and the poorly named “folktronica,” Thom Sonny Green of Alt-J makes his solo debut with High Anxiety.
The drummer of the Mercury Prize winning band worked on this LP for two years while on the road, channeling his focus into something more conjoined with a personal vision. It’s possible that Greene was getting distracted for good reason, and as someone who only has about 10 percent hearing in both ears, he has certainly made a masterful first impression—one that Miley Cyrus recently took note of on her Instagram. The new material has no semblance to his previous indie rock stint, given 21 tracks of wholesome electronic tunes with travel guide titles like “Vienna,” “Oslo,” and “Arizona.” Most of them lack the breakbeat to be truly danceable and have a hushed ambition of becoming hip hop instrumentals—slowly adding upon layers of texture before becoming full patchwork tracks.
In the standout “Large,” buzzards of synth flock over the tempo, feeding off a wave of drone that has an almost menacing quality to its buildup. The same follows in “VVVV,” a harder, syncopated beat that samples ecological noise and ends with what might be an isolated slice of a chiptune. You would think that with a track list this expansive, Green will eventually lose himself in “Cologne,” “Houston,” or whatever is next on the itinerary. The songs somehow zig-zag to the same vantage point, and his technique rarely succumbs to jump cuts or a sonically pleasing glitchiness typical of electronic music. “Meh” is one of the more dizzying numbers on the LP, if not the most, with percussion expertly filtered through a furious turbine of synth arrangements. Just when you think the song has quieted into a meditative lull, it lurches back into the heat of the mix, and about 30 seconds later does it all over again.
There’s a lot going on here, as required by any worthwhile slate of electronica, and Greene streamlines the grooves, tempos, beats and boom bap in a meaningful way. He might not send us loping into the cosmos or weaving through thickets of naturalist melodies, but he does find himself at an atmospheric middle as a songsmith. It’s hard to liken him to an accomplished counterpart—he’s no Stephen Wilkinson or Mike Paradinas or any hybrid technology of the two. At the most fine-tuned stretches of High Anxiety, Thom Sonny Greene takes us on an exploration of his own headspace and what might actually be an overture to a singularly brilliant electronic career in the coming years.