20 many years is a long time to do anything, no make any difference how well you do it. Even for an artist as restless as English electronic polymath Chris Clark, 20 many years of poking and prodding at his hybridized seem could possibly drop its zest. Connecting the dots of Clark’s sizable discography, nearly totally introduced by Warp Data, is like clocking an earthquake tremor. The place the stylistic variances concerning early records Clarence Park and Empty the Bones of You are slight, the seven albums from 2006 masterwork Body Riddle to 2017’s Death Peak are all more than the map. Noodling modular sequences, greatly processed rap samples, deconstructed stay drums, bucolic acoustic guitars, haunted piano themes, loungey jazz vocals, blippy chiptune synths—Clark seemingly by no means experienced an thought that wasn’t truly worth seeking at minimum when. In modern several years, however, the pings on his seismograph have been landing much nearer with each other.
There’s at least just one cause for the growing cohesion in Clark’s output. In 2015, the producer landed his very first soundtrack gig scoring the grim criminal offense-thriller series The Past Panthers. He was, most likely unsurprisingly, pretty very good at it. Aside from his observe file conjuring intricate emotional heft from bleak atmospheres, Clark has generally told elaborate, if inscrutable, stories throughout his albums. The Last Panthers OST was no unique, and stood on its very own as a winding musical narrative evoking thick fog, scorched earth, and transient clearings in the murk. Clark ongoing his movie do the job with the 2018 drama series Kiri and the 2019 horror movie Daniel Is not There, whose soundtracks hewed nearer to their sources’ narratives. They ended up also significantly reliant on classical instrumentation, a fascination of Clark’s that soon colored extra of his own tunes.
“Harpsichords are the first rave hoovers,” he stated about 2018’s E.C.S.T. T.R.A.X., a frenetic two-track dance history featuring harpsichord and piano, respectively. Seemingly, traditional movie-rating preparations had been reinvigorating this seasoned producer’s creativeness. But where by “Piano E.C.S.T” located new options in common appears, the classical experiments on 2019’s Kiri Variations tapped out someplace close to wobbly dissonance. Playground in a Lake—Clark’s very first non-soundtrack album given that 2017, which he calls “a tale about real climate transform, but explained to in mythological terms”—takes the future rational move in his relationship with classical music: reverence. Opening keep track of “Lovelock” is in essence a cello solo by repeated collaborator Oliver Coates then comes “Lambent Rag,” a spritely piano suite given wings by delicate, uplifting synths.
Clark’s repositioning as a neoclassical composer is not fully unanticipated. Piano has appeared on Clark albums from the beginning, albeit in brief thrives. And the IDM musician’s unconventional musicality and revolutionary sound layout share affinities with composers like Nils Frahm and Max Richter. Playground in a Lake sounds most pure to Clark when it’s a mutual trade of old and new thoughts. The synth-pushed “More Islands” uses wavering, detuned tones that date back to Clarence Park, now organized like the doomed symphony on a sinking ship. When actual strings seem in the coda, they might as well be lush pads and rolling basslines. On “Entropy Polychord,” what appears like a generative new music program manufactured from orchestral tape loops gets to be dense, synthetic, and controlled—clear skies consumed by grim thunder clouds. Clark has often excelled at creating his electronics come to feel tactile and gritty, and it’s equally gratifying to listen to his live devices audio ethereal and illusory.
No matter if on cellos, clarinets, pianos, or keyboards, Clark’s fingerprints are largely recognizable all over Playground in a Lake, allowing him to swap out instrumental palettes mid-piece for a putting tonal effect. The finest tracks, like the apocalyptic “Earth Systems” and gentle-spoken “Citrus,” merge these appears to various levels. Extra importantly, they thrust their concepts toward the fringes. A lot less successful are the straight putts. There’s a toothless austerity to the way the strings in “Forever Chemicals” roll alongside unadorned and uninterrupted, which can also describe “Suspension Reservoir.” Its piano appears automated, indifferent, as if pulled from a generic movie cue library. “Emissary” feels detached as perfectly, albeit for unique explanations. Clark sets the violin melody a little bit askew from the piano notes, and it’s not so substantially disorienting as cold and unappealing. Not essentially a terrible tactic, if only it had been applied as punctuation in a more dynamic composition.
The total of Playground in a Lake suffers from the flatness of its instrumentation and psychological array. Some of that looks intentional—such as the robotic vocals, self-enjoying pianos, and dusty strings—yet it’s no less at odds with an existentially themed body of songs. “I’m like an animal trapped in a flood,” sings a choirboy in the vicinity of the close of “Emissary,” which on paper reads like the emotional reduced issue for an album about the inheritors of world warming. In practice, he may as perfectly be reciting traces fed to him by a hypnotist. The moment of palpable dread does sooner or later come—not in the dry comply with-up “Comfort and Fear,” but its counterpart “Shut You Down.” Synths growl as a lot as they tremble, kick drums plummet like meteors, and the tumult underneath threatens to rip a chasm into the earth. On an album that struggles with effective articulation, this is where Clark bellows the loudest, and in an unmistakable voice.
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