rustie_sonar_saopaulo_2012

Torii MacAdams is chillin with his man Rusty

In seventh grade, all my friends played the Fainting Game. The preferred method was to hyperventilate with back to wall, then have a friend compress one’s chest, inducing a heady, oxygen-deprived euphoria. I never liked it; the brief asphyxiation was too close a cousin to Death for my comfort. Glaswegian producer Russell Whyte, better known as Rustie, traffics in safer approximations of that breathlessness. His full length debut, 2011’s Glass Swords, is a compact, blindingly bright supernova of inventive trap and trap-like beats, mostly free of cartoonish build-ups and drops. In the three years since the widely praised Glass Swords, “trap house” has emerged as a problematic sub-genre unto itself, its stuttering hi-hats typically backed by a heavy undertone of racial cluelessness and cooptation. Rustie’s newest LP, Green Language, has been released into a critical atmosphere wary of trap, a scene Rustie helped create, which has seen countless less skilled mimics profit. In an interview with The Skinny, Rustie said “I think Glass Swords was a bit more frantic, it didn’t have so much space in it…I guess I learned to let things breathe a little bit more.” Is Green Language Yogic deep breathing, or Glass Swords’ sonic suffocation? A bit of both, actually.

“Green language,” or “language of the birds,” is the mythical, mystical supposed communication between birds and initiated humans. With an aviary album title, it’s appropriate that the first single from Green Language was “Raptor,” named for the little feathered proto-birds of the present. “Raptor” was a somewhat strange choice for a first single; it’s a decent standalone track with frankly ridiculous helium highs and a satisfying drop, but it functions much better in the context of the album’s sequencing. “Raptor” follows “Workship” and “A Glimpse,” two brief, glittering, and understated compositions. “Raptor”’s the harbinger of the most uptempo section of Green Language, but it’s hardly the highlight.

Green Language is most exciting when Rustie collaborates with hyperactive adenoidal rappers D Double E and Danny Brown. D Double E, possessor of a flat top you could set your watch to and a nasal, east London accent, got blessed with a beat full of bird chirps and cinematic synths on “Up Down.” The rise and fall of the vocals in accordance with the refrain “What does up must come down” is a little on the nose, but that’s my sole, nitpick-y complaint. “Attak” technically “features” Danny Brown, but Detroit’s favorite rapping chipped tooth Muppet is star, going into hyperdrive with rhymes like “Back in 2003 used to post up and roll up bag of pounds of the mid/ Used to trap O.T. with the D, on the Greyhound bus, one pair of jeans/Touchdown in the city like ‘Nigga where the fiends?’” Collaborators on both Green Language and Brown’s Old, Rustie and Brown have a fairly straightforward symbiosis– Rustie makes bombastic beats, Danny Brown kills them.

The paucity of songs on Green Language meant to induce a Molly-aided frenzy is a pleasant surprise. Rustie’s 2013 12” “Slasherr/Triadzz” felt like a step in the wrong direction, but Green Language is surprisingly restrained and, occasionally, ambient. “Tempest” opens with the type of arena rock guitars meant to signify “head banger,” but it’s really more of a slowed down “head nodder,” its two halves broken up by the sounds of rolling storm clouds. “Dream On,” featuring Muhsinah, is an R&B jam in the mode of current It Girls Kelela and FKA Twigs; Rustie’s production necessitates flexible vocalists, and Muhsinah’s clear, powerful voice compliments Rustie’s cascading drums nicely.

Rustie certainly creates the space to which he aspired on the second half of Green Language, but his genre-hopping is at times disjointing. Cloud rap (“He Hate Me”) leads to 8 bit video game trap (“Velcro”), which abuts a Zapp-lite ballad(“Lost”), followed by the contemporary R&B of “Dream On.” The music isn’t bad– Rustie’s too talented– but is simply too varied. Discussing the title Green Language, Rustie told Time Out that he likes “the idea of a natural language that doesn’t require your mind. I think it relates a lot to music – a direct language that doesn’t let you get muddled up.” The great struggle of the album is Rustie’s tussle with directness. His high speed single-mindedness on Glass Swords won him acclaim; greater focus, rather than overstretching variety, would have benefited the sometimes muddled Green Language.

It’s clear that, with Green Language, Rustie’s moved beyond the breathlessness of Glass Swords. Green Language may not draw the plaudits that its predecessor engendered, but it’s also an essential evolution for Rustie. While portions of the back half of the album aren’t unto themselves enthralling, they are nuanced– if perhaps overly diverse– attempts at maturation. Fans expecting Glass Swords Mk. II will feel disappointed by the temperate cooking dance wrist speeds necessitated by much of Green Language. Those bored by the ubiquitousness of trap, however, will find an good, if flawed, album difficult to match for Rustie’s countless imitators.

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