The difficult second album: a cliche as old as pop music, and one of which Russell Whyte must be acutely aware. His debut, 2011’s Glass Swords, has frequently been hailed as a defining statement of its time. For Simon Reynolds it was emblematic of the “digital maximalism” being explored by a new generation of musicians. Writing in The Wire, Mark Fisher praised it for “eroticising” the state of “data overload” afflicting our social-networked society. Like many such critic-spun narratives, the musician concerned didn’t seem overly keen on it. But that could’ve been less because the analysis was a fudge, and more for the existential challenge that it posed. When you’re already at maximum, where do you go next?
Perhaps understandably, then, its followup is presented on very different terms. Its title is a reference to pre-modern mysticism; it was made, we’re told, not whilst submerged in the data stream, but in a remote part of Scotland, to the sound of birdsong. In parallel with this Whyte has made efforts to distance himself from the “kitsch sounds” of Glass Swords. He even goes so far as to describe it as a pisstake, reassuring us that its followup is a “more serious” record. He’s correct on that count, though whether this is a good thing is questionable. In Green Language, Whyte has crafted an album which sounds simultaneously bigger than its predecessor – more imposing, grander in its themes – and vastly less substantial.