Thursday, March 29, 2012

Album Review - Clark: Iradelphic

Rating: Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It

Starting with the icy IDM experiments on his debut Clarence Park, through his twisted, beat heavy compositions on Body Riddle, Turning Dragon, and Totems Flare, Clark (a.k.a. Chris Clark) has always attempted to balance the tension between the organic and synthetic. Clark's use of live drum samples has been key in the development of his sound; his beats seeming real yet not quite of this world. It's been three years since the release of Totems Flare, and now finds Clark releasing his latest opus, Iradelphic, which finds him at a bit of a crossroads. For those expecting the almost impenetrable soundscapes of his previous albums, there are hints of that on the album, but the album finds itself frequently seeking less computer based territory. In fact, Iradelphic features almost more acoustic instrumentation than electronic. When the opening track "Henderson Wrench" unfolded I first thought I got the wrong pressing of the release. Layers of acoustic guitars twist and turn through each other, with only vague wisps of electronic percussion in the background, the organic reverie interrupted only at the end with some booming drum flourishes.

Which leads into first single "Com Touch" which takes its time building, starting with old analog synths emulating classical motifs before segueing into a typical Clark-ian beat frenzy. The blurting bass synths bumping and pushing against the furious waves of keyboards.

And that is the intriguing as well as the confounding thing about Iradelphic, that you never get the sense that this is a Clark record. You know in your heart it is, his name is on the label, and there are Clarkesque elements throughout, however, as a complete work, it feels curiously scattershot and difficult to pin down. If you were to hit random on the CD itself you would swear you were listening to different artists. There are two tracks with Martina Topley-Bird which function as an almost acoustic, trip-hop duet. "Open" leading the charge with a requisite hazy vocal turn from Topley-Bird leading into "Secret" which acts as an almost coda to "Open."

There really is no indication from these collaborations that it is Clark, not that it is necessarily a bad thing, it is just difficult to assimilate them within the confines of this record. Clark is more successful when he merges the acoustic with the electronically more fluidly. The ambitious three part, ten minute long "The Pining" is a master class in sequencing and pacing. Over rising keyboard drones and steel drum pads, Pt. 1 moves into a cloud of swirling guitars, percussion, and electronic effects, before getting more intense and jazzy with admirable bass work, then pausing for a drum breakdown, where the elements of the earlier motif flows back to the forefront. Pt. 2 is more frantic, featuring a skittering beat platform, with echoes of the dense bass synths and guitar work from earlier, adding layered vocal samples underneath. The final part adapts the melody to a choir of bell synths before fading out with calm analog ambiance.

Which would have been a good ending point, however, Clark throws in a final ambient closing track, the Boards of Canada-lite "Broken Kite Footage," which is a lovely droning piece but seems superfluous after the ambitious "The Pining." Which is another nagging issue with the record, the pieces themselves individually are almost across the board interesting great tracks but as a collective whole, don't appear to have a lot of connection to one another. The pastoral IDM of "Tooth Moves" bumps into the blurting and burbling "Skyward Bruise/Descent," whose atonality rubs wrong against the Topley-Bird tracks. The scraping guitars and meandering atmospherics of "Ghosted" slap abruptly into the gorgeous piano meditation of "Black Stone." The variety of tracks, as well as their sequencing, creates more confusion than tension, and would have benefited either from some better transitions, or a more homogeneous palate.

These issues I have with the record don't ultimately derail the enjoyment of most of these pieces. There is just a bigger learning curve in getting into the whiplash flow of the songs. Admirably, Iradelphic is a transitional record that finds Clark trying to not be pigeon holed with a certain sound, looking to expand on his prior work while still honoring it. At this stage, it is stretched a little too far, coming across less cohesive than it should. There is a interesting seed planted here though, one that hopefully will bear fruit.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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