A Brief Study in Clark

Chris Clark, or simply Clark as he is currently, took me by surprise when I was already too late. Last Summer I was perusing the racks at the Fremont Easy Street Records, really wanting some good new beats. My thirst/hunger for and ability to consume the poorly-termed (but will have to do for now!!) Electronic music had reached voracious levels. In fact, I remember when I was in my early twenties, I was pretty sure that the only thing I’d ever be that edacious of would be sex…ah, the folly of youth. Only music can satisfy this sort of appetite, this kind of seeking. The problem is that it needs be fed often, with the new and the old, but never just the same old leftovers (leftovers are fine to an extent, but after a while, they require spicing up for new life). So, I was in Easy Street and talking with my buddy John who works (worked? are they closed yet?) there and asked him to suggest some tasty new beats. Now, John and I don’t always se eye to eye on beats. In fact, I’m downright snobby compared to him when it comes to Electronic music and Hip-Hop. Knowing full well he might run into a brick wall with me, he took a flier anyways on Clark’s Body Riddle. They didn’t have a play copy, so he slipped open one from stock to let me peek at it with the old eargoggles. It was an instant, “I’ll buy it!” I only needed to hear the entirety of the first song and about a total 35 seconds of snippets from the rest of the album to decide. The funny thing, to me, was I was still about a year late on this freakin disc; it was released in 2006 and here I was in ’07, never even heard of the guy. His style is magnificent (am I some Wu-Tang Master describing a student’s technique?!?). First there is the hard, acid-induced clench of Aphex Twin’s rhythmic psychosis mellowed by a more Hip-Hop sensibility, at times. Then, his melodic approach combined with his choice in synth sounds can only be part of the camp I like to describe as Disney on acid (or did I hear that in a review of AM-Boy and am now co-opting it for my own damn use??). But, as I have truly come to see as his most delightful skillset is a twofold piece of music magic. First, through all this acid-heavy, dance-thumping and jumping is his ability to still “sing” a lullaby with his creations. His tunes are almost never edgy in a way that would keep babies from sleeping. Well, at least not this baby. Second, and this is where some of his real genius shines through (particularly on Body Riddle, but also on Empty the Bones of You), is his ability to Extract. Well, what the fuck do you mean by extract??!? Electronic music is born of dance culture, thus most of it sticks in a groove or pocket for each specific track/song and only recently in the last handful of years, have artists really broken some of those barriers and been able to even illuminate movements (ironic…it’s dance music!) in their songs. These are not your great-great-great-great grandfather’s movements in Bach or Mozart, but they certainly are related. They work from form and variation. But more importantly, they function to convey a much deeper, richer sense and palette of emotion in a music that has often been criticized for a lack of just that. So, as for extracting, I mean to describe his peculiar prowess in illuminating movements in electronic music. I call it this, because he seems to set up shifts that may appear to be bold beforehand, but are subtle as they transform. He seems to simply extract, or pull what comes out of what was first; a little mini-birthing. For example (the best would be for you to go listen to his stuff, but……..), he will have a certain melodic motif hovering all ghostly like above a beatless soundscape and then meticulously craft a rhythm that seems made for the melodic motif like life partners meeting in some Hollywood romantic comedy. On top of that, the tempo will change slightly with the coupling of melody and rhythm and with all that, the intrinsic emotion of the piece comes squeezing out (a tall glass of Clark juice!!!) with seemingly little effort. To make an analogy: when a skilled filmmaker switches the angle of a shot, but maintains continuity, while also never even coming close to shredding suspension of disbelief? That is what he is doing musically. Believe me, I’ve listened to the two albums many times to come to attempting to describe it here.
Now, there’s just one little beef I gotta pick with this guy. Why the hell does his new album sound like shit?!!??!!!!?? Yes, artists must push themselves to change and grow in order not to stagnate and produce the same old thing over and over, but did he have to throw his melodic talents in the fucking blender and turn up the clatter? Well, I’ll just keep listening to the other two (his very first LP is kinda grating to me, too, but whatever). G’night!

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