, April 11th, 2017 07:19
Chris Clark has certainly had a busy couple of years. Since his last eponymous full-length was released in 2014, the Berlin-based producer has released a steady drip-feed of EPs, as well as soundtracking the critically acclaimed British crime-noir series The Last Panthers – while even finding time to squeeze in a new track specially for the Save Fabric campaign.
All the signs of this intensely fertile creative period would suggest that Clark is an artist who’s comfortably at the peak of his artistic powers, all the while remaining criminally underrated by the mainstream music press at large. 2014’s masterful Clark was certainly a turning point – with many fans proclaiming it his best album since Body Riddle – but could it be topped by the aptly named Death Peak?
In a word, yes. Out of the harsh winter so evocatively captured on Clark comes a new kind of regeneration symbolised by Death Peak, with its opener ‘Spring But Dark’. Tongue-in-cheek name aside, it’s a perfect microcosm of the album as a whole: beautiful, otherworldly but with a palpable edge.
In fact, I’d go so far as to call it slightly vicious. There’s the hard-edged brilliance of sound – crystalline, as though it’s been through a refinery – and the intricate layering of sonic textures that are all too familiar for those who’ve encountered Clark’s extensive back catalogue. But Death Peak also brings a welcome twist of dark humour, a barely suppressed undercurrent which threatens to transform the whole thing into an exhilarating pagan frenzy.
It’s fitting then, that Clark himself describes the stunning lead single ‘Peak Magnetic’ as “a boulder bouncing down a hill with birds tweeting around it”. The contrast between the pulsating 4/4 beat gathering momentum and sampled bird-calls shimmering above like gossamer creates a very uncanny sense of euphoria, as though your favourite techno club was suddenly transported to a sunny Alpine mountainside.
Clark’s skill in producing not just songs, but soundscapes as a portal to another musical dimension is brought to the fore in Death Peak. The daring, innovative breadth of his artistic imagination is given full licence in the sense of expansive space each track so effortlessly conjures – no doubt helped by his previous soundtrack work.
From the vivid, almost psychedelic meadows of ‘Butterfly Prowler’ to the fearsome mountain crags evoked by ‘Hoova’’s abrasive techno, it’s clear that the album’s journey to the top of Death Peak demands to be listened to in full. As a result, its wordless narrative arc has an emotional significance which cannot be fully contained in any isolated track.
But here and there are particular highlights: the eerie harpsichord ballad showcased on ‘Aftermath’; the restless paranoiac urgency of ‘Slap Drones’ which eventually gives way to a new kind of hope; the childish naivety of the piping synths which begin the album’s epic-length closer ‘Un U.K’.
In a record brimming with ideas, it is this expert interplay of childlike purity with the dark, harsher elements of techno that creates something new and vital. As Clark puts it in a recent Q+A, Death Peak is a “riddle of these most pure and lucid moments, condensed into an enduring and continuous musical wheel.”