Music

Thom Sonny Green: High Anxiety

Drummer of Alt-J struggles to engage listeners on overlong electronic solo debut.


Thom Sonny Green

High Anxiety

Label: Infectious Music
US Release Date: 2016-08-19
UK Release Date: 2016-08-19
Amazon
iTunes

Thom Sonny Green -- known for his role as drummer for Mercury Prize-winning English band Alt-J -- recently released his first solo project, High Anxiety. It's a very sharp contrast to anything his band has done before, and this is almost too noticeable on the album: its whopping 70 minutes is filled with 21 ideas that move between ambient, atmospheric passages and emotive, booming beats. When I heard the style of the album, I immediately thought how strangely-perfectly it parallels Gorillaz as this band member's version of their The Fall: made in the midst of the artist being on tour, traveling from city to city, using just an iPad (or in Green's case, his laptop). Beyond this situational root, the substantially minimalist beats on both projects and their oppositely-colored covers fortify the connection. And, like The Fall, not all of High Anxiety works fantastically, but there is still great music to be found, and a consistent sonic "theme" throughout does a mutable job of keeping your attention throughout the project.

I would consider Green's debut a beat-tape, and one that repeatedly gets stretched too thin. At its worst moments, the tracks are a five-minute expanse of two (or less!) little ideas: "Blew" provides cool atmosphere, and eventually breaks into a cool drum beat... but then it goes back to the atmosphere alone, and drags on for an extra two minutes that aren't greatly appreciated. The static stretches on through the next track "Arizona" (another Gorillaz connection), though at least this one is reminiscent of the two S U R V I V E members' work with the Stranger Things soundtrack. The repetition of a loop in addition to simple song structures and dynamics appears repeatedly on the album, like in the constantly-repeated synth loops of "Palms", "Phoenix", and "Cologne". The spooky strings of "Cologne" don't inspire much feeling; neither does the brighter version of the same thing on "Phoenix". The latter, with its following "fat"-but-not-"phat" drum beat "Large", results in the album's nadir. Even the late-in-the-game attempt to increase the pulse of listeners with the racing beat of "Meh" loses all of its steam through its whole five minutes and 30 seconds, the longest track on the album; the full stop right in the middle gives enough time for the listener to correctly predict, "Second verse, same as the first!"

Thom Green does present some impressive moments here for listeners willing to rifle through all 21 tracks. The slam from the not-super-interesting Bonobo-sounding modern lounge of "Vienna" into the Sweet Valley-like "40 Beers" is a great moment, with the latter sounding like that part of a video game where you walk from the last healing spot/save point on your way to the final boss. It's also nice and minute-long, leaving before the listener would get annoyed. Soon after, the 4/4 pulse that almost never leaves each beat of the cinematically-layered "System" recalls the moving interior lights of a dark spaceship, nicely contrasted by that accenting sharp metal sound. "Oslo" begins with a night-drive synth melody recalling Daft Punk's "Ouverture", but then the song's second half falls into a passing woodwind and strings that blur by, surely much like the drives Green had to make between tour cities. The peak of the record can be argued between "Houston" and "Beach". The former combines beat and atmosphere as usual here, but this time it's ridiculously entrancing with its punctuating synth melodies and warped muted bell-sound arpeggios; all these elements actually keep your attention throughout. Intoxicating enough to lead you down that dark alleyway you've always passed by, "Beach" is comparatively simpler, featuring a rap-ready drum beat and a simple synth aided by the Hindu spirit-evoking chant of "Om Namah Shivaya", all aided by an excellent record-scratching breakdown that slowly pans between the ears while using the reverb of a small room. Closer to the album's end, the pair of "Preach" and "Christ" truly do evoke the idea of praying to/summoning the music gods Thom is trying to channel on this release. The album soon closes with "Neon Blue"'s excellent balance of a light, happy synth melody with a menacing, booming beat, and only the constant thread of hi-hats connecting them together.

On High Anxiety, I feel the best tracks stand out easily as "40 Beers", "Houston", "Beach", and the final "Neon Blue". These four are truly great songs that serve as "tentpoles" for which the quality of this album is held up, and -- naturally -- each side has its lulls in quality over this gotta-be-twice-as-long-as-it-should-be release. Speaking to this, much of my malaise with the album comes from the fact that it's just too darn long! We'd say this same detraction towards any not-absolutely-incredible album of a length like this from any full band, let alone a solo display of beat fragments. I wonder if this overstretched-ness stems from the difficulty for an electronic musician to turn cool little loops into full tracks (I know this is certainly the case for me in my attempts so far). Releasing a project of said loops is all well and good to get many previews of what this artist's take on "music" is, as long as each example doesn't overstay its welcome like much of this album does. Plenty of the time, the ideas presented on High Anxiety provide an effectively scary ambiance, but no striking musical passages. The tracks where they're both present, though, are where this release shines.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.