He’s an old hand at this lark, is Chris Clark, having signed for Warp back in 2000. Fast-forward 14 years and he’s still at it, this self-titled effort marking his seventh full-length release on the label. His is a catalogue that embodies a measured approach to electronic music: intelligent yet accessible, subtle yet thudding, technical yet danceable. Though Clark himself distinguished 2008’s Turning Dragon as all-out “techno”, his musical progression seems to have followed a logical path, from the big beats of debut LP Clarence Park to the live instrumentation of his last album, 2012’s well-received Iradelphic.
So where now for the accomplished producer-composer-performer from St Albans? He says this LP is a blend of organic and electric – “drenched in sounds of the outside world… amongst the moreish crunch of industrial machinery” – but how exactly does he incorporate field recordings into his club-centric philosophy? Heady melodies are promised, but are they delivered?
Initial impressions are positive: opener Ship Is Flooding serves as a dramatic introduction – aforementioned samples building to an ominous, horror movie-style crescendo – before promptly giving way to Winter Linn, a dense, irresistibly-concocted piece in which a basic beat underpins glitchy riffs before shimmering, ascending keys take centre stage. The track’s deftly cacophonous coda offers unspoken but audible reassurances: you’re in good hands.
Clark wastes no time, consolidating with the borderline happy hardcore of Unfurla. The lead single, in fact, may be the album’s highlight, its sweetly syncopated melodies almost at odds with myriad industrial-strength elements in the mix. There’s further contrast with the utterly gorgeous piano loop on Strength Through Fragility – its tenderness later echoed in the equally emotive Snowbird – while the oddly entitled Sodium Trimmers is a little more conventional in its brazen, bruising, Underworld-like groove. Banjo, similarly, revives Aphex Twin‘s crashing, chaotic knob-twiddling before The Grit In The Pearl offers the best of both words, being a reverberating floor filler that ultimately descends into hectic breaks and stereo-spanning grey noise.
Despite the occasional moment of respite, it’s all a little chaotic. One begins to wonder how Clark will close out proceedings, but the composer, at home in his own skin, stays the course he set for himself: Beacon’s boundless synth riff grows to cinematic proportions, bringing with it a sense of cinematic staging; Petroleum Tinged does likewise – its brief, buzzing chords reminiscent of Pet Shop Boys‘ remarkable Battleship Potemkin score – while Silvered Iris adopts an altogether more upbeat approach, skittering percussion giving way to metronomic beats and a theme that careers across the mix.
Affairs draw to a close first with There’s A Distance In You – a broad, soundwave-spanning, seven-minute opus – and then Everlane, whose long, drawn-out chords have “album closer” etched deep into their constituent notes. It is, in fact, curiously conventional, but Clark the artist and Clark the album have by this point filled their remit with aplomb, machines having been made to sound human, the results as diverse as one would expect from such a multi-faceted pairing: chaotic, withdrawn, subtle, bombastic, promising and ominous all at the same time.