Henry Green makes electronica relevant again, which is nothing short of a small miracle. For those who love to succumb to its ethereal noodling and effervescent atmospheres, there's nothing better than taking an extended dip into its ambient roiling waters. But those same depths can offer a succession of banalities when not properly addressed and respected. Bands like Air and Orbital discovered the perfect balance between these ephemeral rhythms and heady soundscapes in the '90s, and the genre has been indebted to them ever since. But in those intervening years, its popularity has waned, leaving those still practicing this dreamy musical art with the difficult task of reinventing these sounds for a new generation.
And this is something that the Bristol producer takes very seriously. Across the songs that make up the body of his debut record, "Shift," Green doesn't waste a moment to call back to those influences which helped to shape his own rhythmic viewpoint. From the brief opening ambiance of "i" to more substantive efforts like "Another Light" and "Without You," he pairs a singer-songwriter's eye for construction with the wobbly movements of electronic music. These songs are feel like they are in a constant state of flux, moving in time to their own internal mechanisms. They may not all move far from the formula established by artists like Underworld and Faithless, but they do all convey a sense of measured emotionality, with each song inhabiting a world of shifting tonal allegiances and intimate experiences.
There are some tracks, such as "Something," which don't really seem to go anywhere -- they achieve a modicum of motion but don't utilize it in any appreciable way. The music seems to go from the beginning of the song to the end without amassing any weight. These moments detract from the gorgeous liquid environments that Green has so carefully wrought, but they don't derail the overall development of the album. With its celestial beats, hypnotizing vocals and acoustic guitar, "Aiir" is the perfect example of how Green creates electronica that doesn't simply allow itself to be observed but asks for your participation. You can still become lost in its shapeless beauty, but there a complexity within its length that reveals just how attuned he is to the current state of electronic music.
Are there moments when I think I'm listening to an early record from Air? Well...yes. But that's hardly an insult. It speaks more to his understanding of the genre than it does to any sense of imitation. These sounds may tickle the nostalgia hairs on our necks, but Green certainly adapts them in intriguingly viable ways. His sense of composition and melodic flow is meticulously developed; and barring a few slight missteps, he's created a collection of songs which celebrate the amorphous nature of electronica as well as the ways in which it seems to permeate the space around us. He creates more than songs -- these are miniature soundtracks, filled with unexpected twists and turns that bewilder as much as they comfort. He's supplied the music, and now we must provide the narrative.