Showing no signs of slowing down, just after releasing the oceanic-themed Growls Garden EP, in 2009 Chris Clark released his third album in a trilogy of likeminded full-lengths for Warp Records. Progressing from the baroque-electro of 2006's Body Riddle and the full-bodied techno blasts of 2008's Turning Dragon, Totems Flare combines both of those prior styles and adds IDM, drum'n'bass, ambient techno, and electroclash to the mix. The song "Growls Garden," which also made an appearance on the same-named EP, marks Clark's first attempt at singing and he does so adequately: lazily talking through harmonic filters like the male version of Miss Kittin or a member of Kraftwerk.
Some musicians are in it for the long haul. Their art pours out of them via cathartic necessity rather than any obligation or ulterior motive to create. Bjork, Neil Young, PJ Harvey: you tolerate their weaker moments because you know they’re going to return with something different and possibly brilliant within a couple of years. Chris Clark is making a strong claim for a young apprentice position in this Lifer club.
I’m doing impressions tonight. Would you like to hear my impression of Chris Clark’s 2008 LP Turning Dragon? And a 1, and a 2, and a POW! POW! POW! POW! CRUNNNCH! POP-POP-POP-POP KABOOM!! PITTA-PITTA POP POP POP CHUNKA-CHUNKA-CHUNKA-CHUNKA BAM BAM BAM BAM THUNK THUNK TICKA-TICKA-TICKA-TICKA-TICKA-TICKA-TICKA BOOOOOOM!!!! Clark’s sharp left turn into rhythmic noise à la Converter might not have felt like such an ambush had it not been billed as the counterpart to his breakout Body Riddle in 2006. As Prefuse 73’s influence was growing viral and every producer on Warp was expected to julienne their material to within an inch of its life, Clark dialed down the breaks, played it straight with melody, and made a record about emotion.
Chris Clark has been taking IDM a bit too literally. Since he began making music at the turn of the century, Clark’s been toying around with a number of musical influences trying to find that sweet spot between the experimental and the accessible, the sophisticated and the simple, and, dare I say, between the “intelligent” and the “dance”. However, if you’ve ever listened to an album featuring the photo-shopped, smirking mug of Richard D.
Think about the basic properties of beat-oriented electronic music. It emphasizes dynamic action, feelings of speed, impressions of light-- extremes and intricacies of sensation. It tweaks your senses with creative deformations of time and space, with strictly engineered frameworks lurking beneath sleek or gaudy facades. And as Simon Reynolds credibly argued in Energy Flash/Generation Ecstasy, it strives to create experiences instead of describing them.