Clark: Iradelphic / Fantasm Planes (Warp)
Chris Clark is perhaps the most unsung of heroes on the Warp roster. He’s been releasing innovative and exciting electronic music for the last 10 years or more, and he never quite seems to fully get his due. His vision has always struck me as particularly uncompromising, continually changing and consistently challenging himself to break new ground. He does so not in the mind-blowing way that Autechre blew the door off the entire IDM mythology in the late 90s/early 00s, but in a way that strikes me as considerably sneakier. This is not music that is “difficult” necessarily, but music that is no less brimming with ideas. Each of his albums has sounded particularly different, be it the joyous melodic sensibility of his debut Clarence Park, the rude hardcore edge of Turning Dragon or the restless leg of Totems Flare. Iradelphic is another beast entirely, and Clark likely wouldn’t have it any other way. The most notable change to his palette here is the use of guitar and piano in more obvious ways. Between that ostensibly more traditional arrangement decision and the incorporation of vocals from Martina Topley-Bird on select tracks, Iradelphic on paper seems as though it might be the more commercial crossover breakthrough Clark has perhaps by now earned. However, I don’t consider it a particularly commercially motivated decision to incorporate any of these things; it’s Clark yet again challenging himself to do something new and interesting, carving off yet another facet on his shining diamond of a repertoire. Still, anyone familiar with Clark’s past output might be surprised by the jangling guitar that kicks off Iradelphic in opener “Henderson Wrench,” a track that has more in common with a freefolk outfit like City Center than any of his own backcatalogue. Fear not, though — there are plenty of dizzying electronics showcased herein, such as the persistent sequenced Krautrock melody of “Com Touch” or the blistering synth solo of “Tooth Moves” that tops off a gorgeous acoustic backdrop. My favorite block of tracks happens at the center of Iradelphic, though; Clark’s arrangements continue to focus on the guitar while Martina Topley-Bird provides vocal duties (sometimes joined by Clark) on both “Open” and “Secret,” two highlights of the album. The wordless vocals that top off “Secret” really are infectious; there is an otherworldliness to the songwriting here that I find positively enveloping. Piano ballad “Black Stone” separates these from the final act of the album, the three-part “Pining” suite and the hazy outro “Broken Kite Footage.” All of this in under 40 minutes — it really is nearly perfect. He tops this off with a recent EP of outtakes and alternate versions that’s also not to be missed. He ups the electronic ante on most of this, especially “Henderson Swooping” where he lets his programming and walloping rhythm section fly; likewise, on “Secret Slow Show” he ditches the sing-song of the original and instead throws down a heavy-handed halfbeat to good effect. The alternate take on “Com Touch” here is a mash-up between the original and a new cut, “Pocket For Jack.” This seamless meshing of ideas is something Clark’s showcasing throughout both of these releases; the flow of one piece into another usually seems thoughtful and effortless. Both of these releases are growers, certainly; Iradelphic sat in my library with only a few plays for weeks (maybe even months) before it properly resonated with me. It’s this creep-up quality to his production and composition skills that haunts me and continually reminds me just how damn good he is. Well done, times two!