Text Khalid Azizuddin
Clark is the truncated handle of one Christopher Clark of St Albans, Hertfordshire. In a 13-year career on the seminal Warp label, he has assumed and abandoned various iterations of his musical identity. The Clark of yore (once known as Chris from St Albans) was more architect than composer. An eye for texture and a talent for construction resulted in pieces that were more sculptures than songs. Clark became mononymous with Body Riddle (rel. 2006), which was as much indebted to the genius of Aphex Twin as it was to the crispest J Dilla loops. After the noisy aggression of Turning Dragon (rel. 2008), the onset of maturity proved too hard to resist. Subsequent LPs gradually introduced pastoral notes and irony-free pop hooks. Evidently, one does not have to feel guilty about growing up.
Such lapses in continuity prevent analyses (such as this one) neatly assigning cause as to why a record sounds the way it does. Certainly with this self-titled album, place had some bearing. It was written in the rural pastures of the English countryside during regimented 12-hour days (6am to 6pm) with a Winter ‘14 release in mind. Only the most basic gear was taken during the gestation. Working within the (predefined) confines of space and constraints of time has lent a singularity of vision to this record, one might opine. The narrative thread that flows through Clark is unbroken and coherent, an asset absent in previous releases. The rush of water through the punctured hull of ‘Ship is Flooding’ heralds the linear 4/4 and neat, full synths of ‘Winter Linn’, which bleed into surrounding pockets of air and progressively carbonate in manic vibrations (like an uncovered curry in a microwave). The spent atoms are given corporeal form and movement on ‘Unfurla’ before once more granting respite with the grand piano chords of ‘Strength Through Fragility’, bold against clouds of noodling bass. The narrative continues onward, compelling engagement in one go rather than in pieces. At least then, the abrupt tonal changes in ‘Banjo’, ‘The Grit in the Pearl’, ‘Beacon’, and ‘There’s a Distance in You’ make sense as transitional devices. Otherwise they remain eccentric academic exercises.
Throughout the record, the listener is constantly reminded of the prodigious talent underpinning the arrangements. Pay attention to the bells dotting the sepia synths in the intro to ‘Unfurla’. In the claustrophobia of the bridge, you may pick out a diaphragm inhaling and exhaling as it prepares for the final propulsive passage. While allegations of indulgence may have been levelled at Clark before, here they are moot. Embellishments are used clinically, fully subservient to the direction of a piece. The squiggly synths on the colossal highlight ‘There’s a Distance in You’ are a fine example, they sound like a calculator getting caught fudging up a simple calculation, bleeping in embarrassment. An entire riff built on this sound could have easily become annoying but used sparingly, it counterpoints the reverberated melody line pulsing underneath. A leitmotif eventually assembles itself over the course of the record: CD skips, Windows error messages, and other assorted machine glitches adorn the landscape, perhaps a commentary on the dystopian now. Perhaps hinting at the even more profound: Fun can be had even in the depths of tedium.
“More Berghain than Guggenheim” is how Warp characterises Clark. While lacking much of the (eminent) institution’s notoriety, parallels are present. For all the hype, the sound is the first thing you notice once inside. So crisp, so capable that you barely notice the filth that’s going on around you.
LISTEN TO: ‘There’s a Distance in You’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Squarepusher
1. Ship is Flooding
2. Winter Linn
4. Strength Through Fragility
5. Sodium Trimmers
8. The Grit in the Pearl
10. Petroleum Tinged
11. Silvered Iris
12. There’s a Distance in You