Clark – Totems Flare (album review)

Totems FlareDrop what you’re doing and go get this album now, because it kicks some behind.

I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Clark since way back when he was going by both names, and while I felt like his Turning Dragon album was a tiny step back from Body Riddle, this years Growls Garden EP hinted at some new directions, mixing the glitched-out clubbier sounds of his previous full length with real sense of pop craftsmanship (including vocals on one track) that hinted at another solid step forward. Fast forward a couple months and “whammo,” I guess I was right.

I’ve mentioned it in past reviews about Clark, but there’s something in his production and sound sculpting in general that simply sets him apart from others working a similar space. In addition to vocals, Totems Flare also sneaks in guitar, piano, and drums, albeit usually in massively deconstructed ways. Then again, you wouldn’t expect anything different from the man. The whole release swirls in a sort of heady otherworldly haze that sets him apart alone, and his use of overpowering 8-bit crunch and ear for dynamics is stunning.

Because of the strength of the album as a whole, it’s hard to pick up out the high points, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about “Rainbow Voodoo,” as it will likely rank among my favorite songs of the year. Building with a stuttering arpeggio, it soon layers in with little bursts of electronics, a quiet kick beat, and some monotone vocals. From there out, it keeps escalating, with rhythmic lyrics that pace back and forth while the beats just keep on slamming harder. Eventually the whole thing turns into a twisted pinball machine of bent lyrics, gurgling electronics and hammering beats that manages to be insanely catchy at the same time.

“Rainbow Voodoo” – Clark

There are tons of great moments to talk about (the ascending melodies in the sing-song but mega-crunchy “Future Daniel” and the swaggering robo-smash of “Luxman Furs” are particular high points), but the three minute “Talis” again shows off the new vocal side of Clark in a fine way. Musically, the track is a bit slower, but again comes at the listener from all angles, with mechanical grinding and all kinds of heaving melodies, but at the same time it’s incredibly straightforward and shows a real refinement in writing that makes me think that this is just the beginning of a wonderful new phase for the musician.

“Talis” – Clark

If you’ve enjoyed past work from Clark, I simply can’t imagine you not enjoying this one a great deal unless vocals are for some reason a deal-breaker. Nobody else is doing electronic music quite like this.

(buy Totems Flare from amazon.com)

This entry was posted on Monday, July 20th, 2009 at 5:25 pm and is filed under music. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Clark – Totems Flare (album review)”

  1. Silvan Says:

    Just wanted to go to bed and now I can not get to sleep – too squirelly after Chris Clark. Damn, it’s good!

  2. Forest Forger Blog › Clark - Totems Flare Says:

    […] album of Chris Clark is a stunner. It’s glitchy tunes rock! Hope you like vocals… Something excellent has an album review. This was written by Forest Forger. Posted on Wednesday, July 22, 2009, at […]

  3. Eoin Says:

    Sounds like the Mighty Boosh.

  4. Ghostbuster Says:

    Awesome, awesome, awesome!
    Sounds so angry and physical altogether.
    5/5

  5. Matt Says:

    Awesome review, you pretty much nailed it. Ghostbuster’s right, too – it does sound very angry and physical, especially hammering tracks like Totem Crackerjack and the psychotic carnival plodding of Luxman Furs. But I think it spans the gamut of emotions here – Future Daniel is pure ecstasy and a couple songs flirt with a real sense of sadness – Talis, Absence, and Growls Garden specifically. It just sounds epic. The differences in texture with each track (and often within the same track) make this such an unpredictable and engaging listen.

    (It’s also great exercise music. All-purpose awesomeness.)

  6. Disappointed Says:

    Overall, I have to say I like it a bit less than what he’s served up in the past (especially his Chris Clark days). There’s some great production in there but the pop side of the story does spoil it for me. The vocals don’t work for me in any incarnation (and it’s not that I’m averse to vocals per se … I just don’t like these) and there’s too much of a bit-tunes flavour in there. It’s all starting to sound like a computer game in a lot of places, whereas the old stuff was much less so … and better for it. I’m all for going back to being dark rather than super-mario blippy. Bring back Chris …. for at least a little while. FWIW, I’m still going to check him out live when he hits Australia next month.

  7. Disappointed Says:

    Oh, and the album cover is pretty awful. Really awful, actually.

  8. something excellent » Blog Archive » Year-End List 2009 Says:

    […] Clark – Totems Flare (Warp) Flying unabashedly into a more pop context, Clark went full gusto with vocals this time out, […]

  9. derp Says:

    fantastic album.
    so good for having a dance/trip.
    top 10 of 09 easily.