Release Date: Apr 7, 2017
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Experimental Techno, Experimental Electronic, IDM, Glitch
Chris Clark's music has always been dramatic. But the sound and fury of his albums--from his 16-year-old full-length debut, Clarence Park, to his last album, 2014's Clark--often harboured subtle and suggestive moments. His most recent work, a score for the TV crime drama The Last Panthers, was an intriguing expansion of a sound we rarely hear from Clark.
Death Peak arrived just over a year after Clark's somber score for the British crime drama TV series The Last Panthers, and it's hard not to hear it as an equal and opposite reaction. Where Last Panthers was wintry and precise, Death Peak overflows to a potentially dangerous degree as it explores how creation and destruction entwine on tracks full of beauty and menace. "Spring but Dark" sums up the album's aesthetic, with the fanfare of a children's choir and what sounds like industrial-sized steel drums undercut by relentlessly ticking percussion.
Mention Warp Records and some of the names that usually come to mind are Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Autechre, Squarepusher, Battles, or even Grizzly Bear: artists who in some way or another have functioned as game-changers for the label in terms of their contribution to various forms of electronic and indie music. One name that seems to slip through the cracks though is Clark. The 38-year-old producer began making music using primitive home-built equipment in his teens and was signed to Warp in 2000 after impressing label employees when playing their Nesh party.
There's a lovable yin and yang to Chris Clark's sonic din, a mashup of lament and lullaby. The lurking chaos on Death Peak, and indeed every one of his experiments, is dreadfully gorgeous. Though less dark than his defining album or his latest soundtrack, Clark's latest balances whimsy and savagery just enough to know it's his. The perilous "Spring But Dark" begins a journey over not just one peak, but a whole range.
Clark is a torchbearer for his label, Warp, a former vanguard that outlasted its own revolution to become an immutable status quo. He and labelmate Bibio interviewed each other for The Quietus in 2009 for the label's twentieth anniversary, and Clark offhandedly related a creation myth for his music: "There was so much rave stuff you'd listen to and you could imagine bobbing about to it, but [Black Dog] just had more depth and layers of feelings to it." Presumably, he meant Bytes, from Warp's genre-defining early-nineties compilation series, Artificial Intelligence. He spent the next fifteen years imprinting his MPC jams, analog synths, and samples of his drumming and acoustic guitar onto the sound.
In an interview published around the time of his 2014 self-titled album, U.K. producer Chris Clark talked about his interest in art that pushes "up against the total edge of what human consciousness can experience. Being able to feel completely inside music, like it's on you, as a palpable, physical weight, is the closest you can feel that edge to be." It's a teetering turn of phrase, but a perfect summation of what has made Clark's music so special since he signed with Warp Records around the turn of the century.
Chris Clark has been putting out albums since 2001 when his Clarence Park album was a standout amidst the last gasps of radio-ready “electronica”, an uncommercial and mischievous, yet highly listenable amalgam of glitch and dance beats. The mischief has faded from view as Clark has gotten older, but his skill behind the boards is still as obvious as ever. His weapon of choice on Death Peak is the human voice, and he wields that weapon without ever resorting to a big name guest or a singsong melody.
Chris Clark has certainly had a busy couple of years. Since his last eponymous full-length was released in 2014, the Berlin-based producer has released a steady drip-feed of EPs, as well as soundtracking the critically acclaimed British crime-noir series The Last Panthers - while even finding time to squeeze in a new track specially for the Save Fabric campaign. All the signs of this intensely fertile creative period would suggest that Clark is an artist who's comfortably at the peak of his artistic powers, all the while remaining criminally underrated by the mainstream music press at large.
A Warp mainstay, Clark returns to the label with a nine-track barrage of industrial experimentalism. Employing a dense rack of synths, the opening tracks establish a slightly chaotic fug that the record gradually emerges from. And, once its found its feet, the album treads a pretty glorious path - 'Living Fantasy' provides a particular highlight in this.