Twenty years is a prolonged time to do anything, no matter how effectively you do it. Even for an artist as restless as English electronic polymath Chris Clark, 20 several years of poking and prodding at his hybridized audio may possibly shed its zest. Connecting the dots of Clark’s sizable discography, just about totally launched by Warp Information, is like clocking an earthquake tremor. In which the stylistic variances involving early documents Clarence Park and Empty the Bones of You are slight, the 7 albums from 2006 masterwork Overall body Riddle to 2017’s Dying Peak are all about the map. Noodling modular sequences, intensely processed rap samples, deconstructed reside drums, bucolic acoustic guitars, haunted piano themes, loungey jazz vocals, blippy chiptune synths—Clark seemingly in no way had an plan that wasn’t value hoping at the very least when. In current years, even so, the pings on his seismograph have been landing a lot closer collectively.
There’s at minimum a single explanation for the raising cohesion in Clark’s output. In 2015, the producer landed his initially soundtrack gig scoring the grim crime-thriller collection The Past Panthers. He was, perhaps unsurprisingly, incredibly good at it. Aside from his observe history conjuring complex psychological heft from bleak atmospheres, Clark has always advised elaborate, if inscrutable, stories across his albums. The Last Panthers OST was no various, and stood on its possess as a winding musical narrative evoking thick fog, scorched earth, and brief clearings in the murk. Clark ongoing his film function with the 2018 drama collection Kiri and the 2019 horror movie Daniel Is not There, whose soundtracks hewed closer to their sources’ narratives. They have been also ever more reliant on classical instrumentation, a fascination of Clark’s that quickly colored extra of his personal new music.
“Harpsichords are the primary rave hoovers,” he said about 2018’s E.C.S.T. T.R.A.X., a frenetic two-tune dance record featuring harpsichord and piano, respectively. Evidently, standard film-score preparations have been reinvigorating this seasoned producer’s creativeness. But wherever “Piano E.C.S.T” uncovered new options in familiar seems, the classical experiments on 2019’s Kiri Variants tapped out somewhere around wobbly dissonance. Playground in a Lake—Clark’s very first non-soundtrack album since 2017, which he phone calls “a tale about actual climate change, but informed in mythological terms”—takes the future reasonable move in his romantic relationship with classical new music: reverence. Opening monitor “Lovelock” is fundamentally a cello solo by frequent collaborator Oliver Coates then will come “Lambent Rag,” a spritely piano suite presented wings by subtle, uplifting synths.
Clark’s repositioning as a neoclassical composer is not entirely unforeseen. Piano has appeared on Clark albums from the commencing, albeit in short flourishes. And the IDM musician’s unconventional musicality and innovative sound style and design share affinities with composers like Nils Frahm and Max Richter. Playground in a Lake seems most purely natural to Clark when it’s a mutual exchange of previous and new thoughts. The synth-pushed “More Islands” employs wavering, detuned tones that day back again to Clarence Park, now arranged like the doomed symphony on a sinking ship. When true strings appear in the coda, they could as properly be lush pads and rolling basslines. On “Entropy Polychord,” what sounds like a generative audio method built from orchestral tape loops gets to be dense, artificial, and controlled—clear skies consumed by grim thunder clouds. Clark has always excelled at earning his electronics truly feel tactile and gritty, and it is equally gratifying to hear his live instruments sound ethereal and illusory.
No matter whether on cellos, clarinets, pianos, or keyboards, Clark’s fingerprints are largely recognizable through Playground in a Lake, enabling him to swap out instrumental palettes mid-piece for a hanging tonal impact. The finest tracks, like the apocalyptic “Earth Systems” and delicate-spoken “Citrus,” merge these appears to various degrees. Additional importantly, they thrust their strategies toward the fringes. Significantly less productive are the straight putts. There is a toothless austerity to the way the strings in “Forever Chemicals” roll alongside unadorned and uninterrupted, which can also explain “Suspension Reservoir.” Its piano sounds automated, indifferent, as if pulled from a generic film cue library. “Emissary” feels detached as effectively, albeit for various reasons. Clark sets the violin melody a little askew from the piano notes, and it’s not so considerably disorienting as chilly and unappealing. Not necessarily a poor strategy, if only it experienced been utilised as punctuation in a a lot more dynamic composition.
The entire of Playground in a Lake suffers from the flatness of its instrumentation and emotional selection. Some of that appears to be intentional—such as the robotic vocals, self-actively playing pianos, and dusty strings—yet it is no significantly less at odds with an existentially themed system of songs. “I’m like an animal trapped in a flood,” sings a choirboy in the vicinity of the conclude of “Emissary,” which on paper reads like the psychological low stage for an album about the inheritors of world warming. In practice, he may well as properly be reciting strains fed to him by a hypnotist. The second of palpable dread does ultimately come—not in the dry comply with-up “Comfort and Fear,” but its counterpart “Shut You Down.” Synths growl as a great deal as they tremble, kick drums plummet like meteors, and the tumult beneath threatens to rip a chasm into the earth. On an album that struggles with efficient articulation, this is where Clark bellows the loudest, and in an unmistakable voice.
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