Clark – Totems Flare

It’s an interesting challenge to try to review material by an artist you know nothing about. Worse still, when it’s a largely instrumental work, so finding the words to say is even more difficult. So, let’s be clear: I have no idea where I got this album from, and I don’t know anything about Clark apart from the fact that this album was released a decade ago on the quietly legendary Warp Records.

Totems Flare opens with Outside Plume, which is definitely interesting, and challenging, but isn’t exactly pleasant to listen to, as the dark, fuzzy, and discordant sounds mix together in weird, uneasy, arrhythmic form. At worst, it is at least different from most of the music you’ll have heard recently, and that alone makes it worth a listen at this stage, but hopefully the whole album isn’t going to be like this.

Fortunately, it isn’t – Growls Garden follows, with a gloomy vocal and a much broader range of synth work. There’s still a sense of unease here, particularly in the verses, as the beats only seem to be doing a fraction of the work they should be doing, but there is at least a melody, a sense of rhythm, and some vaguely familiar sounds. They’re fuzzy and loose in form, as is the vocal really, but it comes together nicely, in a more accessible form – you can see how this might have got some radio and club plays at the time.

In the absence of any real knowledge of Clark, it would be tempting to do some research, but as regular readers will know, I try not to do that too much when reviewing, as it can so easily be a distraction from the music itself. Clark might, for all I know, be a side project of the owner of the shoe company of the same name, but trying to review their work while learning this kind of thing would strongly distract from the music. As would speculating about it, actually – I’m drifting.

Rainbow Voodoo is pleasant, but it’s probably fair to say that it’s a bit of a mess. The vocals almost sound like scat, and they kick off a rhythmic synth line that echoes the words that have been delivered. As always, you can definitely say that it’s interesting, particularly when the wild chiptune-plinky-plonk part kicks off towards the end. Then Look into the Heart Now follows, full of weird vocal samples and acid synth noises. Somehow it hangs together better than some of the other tracks, despite perhaps having a little less substance.

Of course, part of the reason your mind is wandering is that the music, while definitely interesting, does encourage you to take flights of fantasy. Maybe some stronger narcotics are needed in order to really do this justice? But you have to admire Clark for just going off and doing something interesting with his music, without any real attempt to be accessible or provide much of an explanation or commentary. In a way, it’s easier to review – this music is whatever you want it to be at the time. For me, it’s fuzzy, odd, and a bit bouncy.

That’s good, because if you listened with a traditional muso mindset, Laxman Furs would honestly be pretty awful. There isn’t a single melodic element here, and the sounds haven’t been chosen because they work well together – everything seems to be here to challenge and question the listener’s expectations. Yet somehow it’s still holding together as an album, five tracks in. Totem Crackerjack, too, is lively, with a huge bass part and frenetic drums, and somehow manages to hold itself together despite that being about it.

It should be fairly clear what you can expect by now, though, and while some tracks like Future Daniel hang together better than others, it’s all starting to get a little tiring now. How much quirky, fuzzy, awkward synth noise do you really need in your day? There’s a short piece called Primary Balloon Landing, and then Talis seems to use the same vocal sample as Growls Garden, but to less interesting effect this time. That seems to be it, really, for this end of the album – Sons of Temper doesn’t appear to have much to offer, and Absence isn’t great either. At least they don’t try to push the duration too much – there’s nothing on here longer than about five minutes.

So Totems Flare is, for me at least, a bit of a mixed bag. I liked Growls Garden, but didn’t particularly enjoy anything else here. The general mood and sound was interesting enough to keep me entertained for half an hour or so, but then it all seemed to fall apart for me, and very quickly. Could it just be that Clark isn’t my thing? Or should I just demand that they give up and go back to making shoes? I honestly don’t know.

You can still find Totems Flare from all regular retailers.

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