Friday, April 14, 2017

Clark - Death Peak Review

In recent years, Electronic music has taken some decisively sharp turns. Whereas the genre's blossoming period in the 90's found representative sounds neatly tucked under simple genre-headers (House, Techno, Big Beat, etc), today's mechanical music seeps and slithers through every possible corner so that all those genres above, and many more, can survive in harmonized chaos. As it stands, in our current, consume-all culture, almost everything you can imagine existing already does. Need a rave of rainbows? Look to Fuck Buttons. An urban sewage dweller? Burial's your guy. Foreign myths and starlit fantasies? Clap! Clap! has that. An apocalyptic party after the machine uprising? Andy Stott welcomes you. Point being, today's Electronic music is a mess. A beautiful mess that welcomes creation of anything specific or universal, in our reality or not. I mention all this in relation to Clark's Death Peak not because the Warp producer's eighth studio LP adds another wrinkle to that infinite web of ideas, but that it really feels like a summation of all that came before. That's not to say it's a gleaming opus, limited creativity prevents that, but rather a succinct aggregate of both Clark's own discography and our sleek, post-modern, Electronic ways.

In 2014, Clark released Clark. The self-titled album ushered in a new era for the steadfast producer, thanks in large part to a zeitgeist-like appreciation of mechanical unease. See, 2010 and onwards saw artists like Burial, Jon Hopkins, Arca, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never, SBTRKT and more sink their teeth into the darker side of our technologically-obsessed world. Thanks to some of those names, bigger acts began to catch on (Kanye West, Bjork, Antony Hegarty). Couple that with Art Pop's distinct shift to a computerized minimalism, something that's seeping into Alternative R&B as we speak, and we're living in a musical era that's cautiously admiring our synthetic future. There's something to say about our social climate that glitches, breaks, and malfunctions are the only underlying element of all aforementioned styles, but that's for another day. Clark's apart of that, his 2014 work a direct cog in the wheel. Much like a cog though, it was an emotionless bolt meant to serve a larger purpose, making the LP quite underwhelming in my eyes. Death Peak rectifies that by branching out, fusing the mechanical with a heart, like Dr. Frankenstein's monster. It's as if the factory needed a pulse to step out of line.

That can be seen almost instantaneously on the aptly named 'Spring But Dark,' a name that corresponds almost poetically to the emergence of life in Clark's music. The short opener works as foreshadowing for the soon-to-be, with the coo's of a dozen abandoned children kickstarting the machines, rather than the machines servicing themselves. Those vocals are Death Peak's primary ingredient, not in substance but worth. On tracks like 'Butterfly Prowler' or 'Peak Magnetic' I have an image of a thriving workshop in my head, human and robot becoming one, building together in harmony. Whereas the former track feels cold, rigid, and enforced, the latter finds new management embracing the unification of workers, resulting in a wonderfully vivid and luminous track that's one of Death Peak's best. With IDM, something this album can off-handedly be referred to as, the best works always merge the cold and the warmth. If one neglects the other, a key factor is missing; whether that be melody, rhythm, tone, the list goes on. My de-facto example of this is Aphex Twin's 'Xtal.' It is the benchmark when it comes to this idea. And while no track on Death Peak reaches that euphoric trance, the halves of each are more just present; they're integral.

See to 'Slap Drones' and 'Aftermath' as to why and how. The back-to-back tracks are undoubtedly Death Peak's worst material, the former because it has no life, the latter because it has no combatant. 'Aftermath,' an elegy of sorts, prances around an antiquated piano, failing to say anything interesting because there's nothing lingering in the shadows. 'Slap Drones' has the same result but opposite effect, with no one filling the void it's the only track here that feels entirely devoid of saturation. If anything, the aforementioned track could take some pointers from 'Hoova,' Death Peak's second single, as the assault of jagged percussion and synths found there weave in and around haunted coo's captured in its grip. Like a boa constructor suffocating its prey, 'Hoova' gives purpose to the agro-aggression, made even better by the fact that it's final minute is a feel good story of weighty release. Interestingly enough, 'Catastrophe Anthem' hinges on the inverse, as if controlled by the voices, the machines panicking with fast-acting thrusts and errant siren signals in the struggle. There, the voices are given enough attention to formulate words ("we are your ancestors" is heard clearly), bringing about comparisons to Son Lux had his music been stripped of his lyrics.

Even though 'Slap Drones' and 'Aftermath' are the weakest in execution, they prove essential in understanding Death Peak. It's no coincidence that the lush, cerebral instrumentation of 'Aftermath' usurps 'Slap Drones,' as each ensuing track feels exceedingly more guided by the voices, the music prior to and including 'Slap Drones' guided by the mechanical. The album's standard 44-minute duration witnesses the birth and eventual dominance of warmth in a dying world. The album's title even alludes to this eventual demise. 'Living Fantasy,' which in many ways mimics the ideas of 'Catastrophe Anthem' by using similar instrumentation and melodies, finds Clark in stark contrast, musically, to his earlier ways on Death Peak, tapping and fidgeting with vibrancy rather than dull monotone as found on 'Butterfly Prowler.' There's true evolution found here, the mark of a well-crafted album. I'd be hard pressed to not speak on behalf of 'Un U.K.' though, the ten-minute channel-surfer found at the album's caboose. With a wide array of styles, ranging from Gold Panda vocal shredding to Clark's usual tactics to OPN-like Progressive Electronic to Eluvium's Ambient fleetingness, 'Un U.K.' really spans the gamut of Clark's influences and interests. It's also an all-inclusive closer to Death Peak's resounding vision.

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