There are many nights I struggle to fall asleep, tossing and turning even as the sky begins to light up. This is something I’ve always struggled with, and I think I’m projecting it onto not just Clark’s sixth album, “Iradelphic”, but his entire body of work, so allow me to try to remove that aspect of myself from this review. As it stands, Clark to me is the sound of endless nights, of robotic sleepless hazes that blur together. It is its own drug. So, with that said:
Chris Clark’s musical style is a full, distinct IDM with lots of strings, synths, glitches, rounded sounds, robust sounds, traditional instrumentation mixed with the most accessible and beautiful ambient soundscapes this side of Boards of Canada. “Iradelphic” is a major step towards the sound I first discovered in Clark, on his album “Body Riddle”, whereas his previous two albums – “Totems Flare” and “Turning Dragon” – felt much more manic and energetic. “Iradelphic” explores a more organic, cinematic sound crafted around a well-paced album experience.
If anything, the opening track, “Henderson Wrench”, is a pretty good indication of the album’s direction, a softly complex string composition that drops and builds into a careful cacophony that inspires only the most overwrought alliteration – there is some seriously deft stringwork going on here, but it maintains harmony with the cluttered track, rather than sounding like a solo. The same driving complexity takes over the following track, “Com Touch“, though I’m not sure the pitchy, plinky synth is doing the track any favours, and the entire track suffers from a schizophrenic lack of focus unusual to Clark – it sounds like two different radio wavelengths at one point, and the inevitable build to static blowout is distracting and unwelcome, which is too bad, since the different elements of “Com Touch” could conceivably have been split into two of the strongest songs on the album. The vocal cutting deployed sparsely near the end of the track in particular deserves to be showcased on its own song. “Tooth Moves“, then, sounds like the sum of the two tracks before it, a jazzy mid-tempo drum beat complimenting drinfting synth, until it’s all drowned out by wailing, ridiculous synth again, like a reset button in the middle of the track to explore a new sound. This structure is… grating… to say the least.
Then there is an interlude, “Skyward Bruise/Descent“. It is a successful interlude, getting us from point A to point B, in the style of the album. It is a bland and serviceable as this paragraph. Thankfully, it is followed by…
“Open”, featuring Martina Toppley-Bird, who is a wonderful complement to Clark’s sound. Her voice has the same haunted, understated beauty that Clark seems to strive for, and even the heavy, chaotic e-harpsichord doesn’t distract from the chemistry Toppley-Bird has with Clark’s semi-enhanced vocals. The following song, “Secret”, relies much more heavily on her vocals and is a fantastic showcase for her, crafting a solid trip-hop beat, a skill Clark utilizes once or twice per album, incorporating more vocal samples intwined with a grinding synth and -subtle strings. Clark fulfils a Gorillaz like role for parts of this song, fading into the background to provide a platform for another artist’s vocals.
Clark sings by himself, with himself, on “Ghosted”. Where other tracks have finely tuned string compositions that feature heft and class, this song sounds like someone absently strumming at strings. There’s more interesting music in tuning an instrument than this, which is disappointing in the context of the album. Directly after it is “Black Stone”, a gorgeous piano piece that leads into the album’s strongest tracks, The Pining suite, opening with the aptly named “The Pining Pt 1″.
The Pining suite, followed by “Broken Kite Footage”, close the album in a grandiose, cinematic way. “The Pining Pt. 1′s” meandering, loose guitar evoke a sunlit, tree-lined road with opening credits careening across them. Something more subdued and mysterious lies under the surface in a slowly growing horn/synth combination that crescendos into chaos, drowning out the rest of the track. “The Pining Pt. 2″ has a similarly jaunty tone, but with different, driving purpose – Pt. 1 is a sightseeing tour, but in Pt. 2, we have purpose, trading heavily on 90′s techno and industrial nostalgia while still playing heavily cinematic. If Pt. 1 is the opening credits, Pt. 2 is Angelina Joile hacking into the Gibson. “The Pining Pt. 3″ is the credit titles, resolution, and “Broken Kite Footage” is the reward for ardent viewers who wait through the entire long credit crawl. “Broken Kite Footage” is by far the most ambient track on the album, a single drifting idea for four minutes.
Clark’s aesthetic lends itself to multiple playthroughs, and “Iradelphic” is no different. An occasionally slow exploration of a vast, yet refined, aesthetic makes for one of Clark’s most interesting albums to date.