Friday, April 6, 2012

Album Review: Clark - Iradelphic

Album Rating:  B+
We all grow sombre with age. As I sit down now, with “Black Stone” ringing in my ears, I hear nothing but weariness from a not-too-old connoisseur for the kind of manic, glitch-infested braindance that sets the cogs in your head to full speed. What now exists in its place - this steady progression of minor piano chords - seems to laugh at the eagerness and futility of what came before it. Burdened with its retrospective nature, the simple beauty is almost disheartening and deeply, deeply sad. In this instance, the context of the artist’s past is what makes the album so very special. It takes a lot for an artist to simply switch styles completely between records; and in the music this is explained to us. One could jump ahead to say Clark is simply bored with his origins, but I’m compelled to suggest that it’s a little more complicated than this.

It takes a little while to get to “Black Stone”. Indeed, Iradelphic as a whole acts as a braking mechanism for those brain-cogs preemptively spinning in the anticipation of a new Clark LP. We’re introduced to the album with “Henderson Wrench” which, while being completely absent of any glitch or even electronic contributions, remains remarkably busy as the swarm of eastern guitars tumbles towards its conclusion. At only two-minutes in duration and without much in the way of structure, it acts more like an interlude to introduce you to a different style rather than a stand-alone track; like something to cleanse your palette before you get into the meat of Iradelphic. Throughout the album this style evolves as it grabs some techno influences here and vocals there, but by its conclusion it has decayed all the way to full-blown ambience. The gentle loops of “Broken Kite Footage”, the final track, approach something akin to an epiphany for Clark. Against all the noise of his past the track embodies this new need for peace, while gently carrying the listener to silence to reflect on the album as a whole. A simple mechanism, you could say, but certainly an effective one.

What happens in between these two points seems somewhere beside contemplation and desperation. Iradelphic is exceedingly charismatic in the way that it portrays this; a great example of which would be the electronic wailing in “Tooth Moves”: continuing defiantly until the whole track is suddenly muffled a minute before its conclusion. The guest vocals, too, do their part in building up Iradelphic’s character. Martina Topley-Bird, now well known for her work with Gorillaz and Massive Attack, lends her voice to the central songs “Open” and “Secret”. Yet another new front for Clark, these songs develop in a very whimsical and considered manner; embodying the kind of summer evening haze feel of trip-hop as the vocals pluck at the gaps between guitar loops and off-beat percussion.

It would be a mistake to suggest that the old Clark is gone. In fact, the 11-minute “The Pining” is indisputable proof of the opposite. Echoing past material, while showing streaks of jazz and experimental instrumentation, it remains the biggest link between Iradelphic and 2009’s Totem Flair. This is not so much a change of style as an evolution towards something a little more melodic and, possibly, welcoming. This shift does not come without its faults, however, as Iradelphic is far from spotless. A few of the tracks seem undeveloped, which would be fine were it not for the frequency that it occurs. A few examples of musical sleight-of-hand would alleviate this somewhat, leading to the conclusion that Clark has been too restrained in his new venture. Elsewhere, tracks such as “Com Touch” can become too busy - meaning a greater sense of balance is needed. Despite this, the vision and character of Iradelphic shines through bright enough, and when the album is at its best you can’t help but agree with the change of pace.

Clark on Warp Records

01 - Henderson Wrech
02 - Com Touch
03 - Tooth Moves
04 - Skyward Bruise / Descent
05 - Open
06 - Secret
07 - Ghosted
08 - Black Stone
09 - The Pining pt. 1
10 - The Pining pt. 2
11 - The Pining pt. 3
12 - Broken Kite Footage

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