The Berlin-based artist is at the top of his game on his debut album for Whities.
Take "Blue Deal," the album's lead single. It's based on a simple melody that doesn't change throughout the track, but is rendered differently on almost every repetition. Every few seconds a new synth tone, drum break, or pad is thrown in, then taken away before you can get used to it. Flow is constantly interrupted by cuts, glitches, clicks and the occasional sharp intake of breath. At one point the whole arrangement makes way for a single chord played by a horn section—the most satisfying split-second of music on the LP.
The sharp, hi-definition sound that Finlayson has developed over his last few releases is joined by an unexpectedly rich, colourful use of harmony. The beat-less title track and opener introduces a grand melodic idea that recurs twice more throughout the album, like the main theme in a film. As in a film soundtrack, there's a clear attempt to build a sense of drama—particularly in the album’s early moments. Listen, for example, to the way that first crunching bassline comes in on the second track, "Balconies."
While Finlayson's past 12-inches stuck to a techno BPM range, on Second Language there's free movement between styles and tempos. "For Want Of Gelt" is (like his remix of Special Request's "Stairfoot Lane Bunker") exemplary drum & bass. Constant shifts in timbre build tension around a taut harmonic progression, deferring the arrival of a euphoric chord sequence that quickly disintegrates into a mess of percussion.
Bait and switch tricks like this help Finlayson maintain a breathless sense of forward motion, even during the album's calmer moments. This is imaginative and complex dance music, with a level of detail that in the hands of a different artist could become overwhelming. Luckily, as brainy as it gets at points, Second Language is always exhilarating.