Album Review: Henry Green – Half Light

[Akira; 2020]

The notion of the difficult second album has become a well-worn cliché, but Henry Green wasn’t sure there would even be one. Unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight after the release of his debut album in 2018, he understandably needed time to figure out what came next. That debut album, Shift, thrived on subtlety and brevity; a nuanced listen that marked a clear progression from his early EPs, it barely topped half an hour in length. When it came to putting together its follow-up, he became acutely aware that he now had a sizeable audience waiting with bated breath, and the stress of this led to considerable writer’s block. The Bristol-based producer decided to relocate to Wiltshire, and spent half of 2019 holed up in an attic studio.

His first real breakthrough came in the form of an important lyric that provided the catalyst for everything to come. “Call all the words out of me,” he pleads on “All”, the opening track that provided the blueprint for his second album, Half Light.  The song’s split into two halves, its near-whispered first two minutes representing the self-doubt he struggled with; and the other two, anchored by a steady percussive pulse, representing the release that came with that moment of breakthrough. It generates enough momentum to power the rest of the record, which is another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it collection that is just a hair over half an hour in length.

Green’s voice is reflective of that feeling of intimidation he’s been dealing with – expressive, but not particularly forceful. It suits the music around him down to the ground; it may be a little on the unassuming side for some, but the atmosphere he’s able to create on these songs is intoxicating. Lead single “Realign” is an impassioned highlight, recontextualised on the album as a forceful counter to the preceding strings-drenched interlude “Yoyuu”, which breaks up the record into two neat halves.

Green’s got collaborators to help him out this time around, too, each bringing their own strengths to the table. He’s bolstered by Andreya Triana on “Tide”, the two trading lead vocals over skittering beats and ethereal melody. Akira Records labelmate Ghostly Kisses (Quebecoise artist Margaux Sauvé) pops up on “Idle”, one of the songs on the album that could pass for something resembling pop music in an alternate universe, afforded additional warmth by the appearance of brass at its climax. Like many songs on the album, “Idle” ends up somewhere much different than where it starts, with perfectly-placed sonic shifts. “Sunlight” and penultimate track “Between Us” serve as particular examples of Green’s mastery of the slow build.

These tracks are meticulously crafted, with a place for everything and the sort of attention to detail that becomes more apparent with each successive listen. Though this is a more expansive set of songs than what came before, Green certainly isn’t one to overcook them, and he understands the make-up of these tracks enough to know exactly when to throw a new element into the mix, often with seismic impact. Half Light prioritises quality over quantity, and while Green’s layered, ambient electronica may be an acquired taste, that this follow-up was so highly anticipated was no accident. A natural next step rather than a radical overhaul, his second album shakes off its difficult gestation and does plenty to justify why people took notice in the first place.