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.

Chart for stowaways – 22 April 2017

Not too many changes at the top of the charts at the moment, but here’s an update of the albums:

  1. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  2. New Order – Lost Sirens
  3. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  4. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  5. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy
  7. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  8. Dusty Springfield – Reputation
  9. Clark – Death Peak
  10. Depeche Mode – The Best Of – Vol 1

The Stowaway Awards 2015 – Nominations

Now it’s time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for over the entirety of 2014. Who will be nominated for the Stowaway awards 2015?

Best Album

  • Erasure – The Violet Flame
  • The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  • Dieter Meier – Out of Chaos
  • William Orbit – Strange Cargo 5
  • Erlend Øye – Legao
  • Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
  • Shit Robot – We Got a Love
  • Simian Mobile Disco – Whorl
  • Sébastien Tellier – L’Aventura
  • Ben Watt – Hendra

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed
  • Camouflage – Singles
  • Depeche Mode – Life in Berlin
  • Erasure – Greatest Hits Live
  • Moby – Hotel Ambient

Best Newcomer

  • Clark
  • Diamond Version
  • Mulu
  • Shelter

Best Artist

  • Napoleon
  • William Orbit
  • Erlend Øye
  • Sébastien Tellier
  • Zero 7

Best Live Act

  • Depeche Mode
  • Erasure
  • Massive Attack
  • Moby
  • Pet Shop Boys

The results will turn up in a few weeks’ time, and we’ll move onto the BRIT Awards in a couple of days…

Massive Attack – Live at the Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, 16 October 2014

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to see Massive Attack for the second time, this time outdoors, at the fantastic Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. They seem to have truly crossed into legendary status now, and kept the crowd entirely enraptured for the duration of the show. The audience, seemingly ageing with the band, are now largely in their late thirties or early forties, but were still ready for an amazing show.

It really didn’t disappoint. After battling the equally legendary LA traffic (described by the duo as “craptastic” during the show) I managed to miss the support act Clark, which I was more disappointed about than I might normally have been, but was there and ready for the sound of Karmacoma when it opened the main show.

Special mention has to be made for the sound, which was exceptional in every sense – both the acoustics of the venue, and also the sound design of the show. And most of the bigger hits were included, although Protection was notable in its absence. The focus this time was on longer, darker, more exploratory tracks, which perhaps suggests the territory the rumoured forthcoming album might take us to.

Some pieces sounded considerably better than their studio versions – so much so, in fact, that in the case of Paradise Circus I found myself forced to completely reappraise my opinion. What previously had seemed a fairly bland track towards the end of a good but largely mysterious fifth album, has now become one of my favourites of their entire career. It’s strange the way music does that to you.

Later tracks saw real attention on the visuals, as Massive Attack wielded their political side with some subtle and not-so-subtle anti-war and counterculture commentary appearing on the screens in the form of tweets, dialogues, and general statements. Which would have been particularly handy if the music hadn’t been quite so good, but it wasn’t really necessary in this instance.

The songs played were an odd selection to say the least, with a total of just three selections from the first two albums Blue Lines and Protection, four from Mezzanine, one from 100th Window, three from the most recent album Heligoland, and a further three which have yet to appear on an album. In a sense that’s the sort of selection which is unlikely to make anybody really happy, but when the artist is as good as Massive Attack I suspect nobody really cares.

The setlist, thanks to

  1. Karmacoma
  2. Battle Box 001 *
  3. United Snakes
  4. Paradise Circus
  5. Risingson
  6. Psyche (Flash Treatment)
  7. Future Proof
  8. Teardrop
  9. Angel
  10. 3D on Jupiter *
  11. Inertia Creeps
  12. Safe from Harm
  13. Splitting the Atom (encore)
  14. Pray for Rain (encore)
  15. Unfinished Sympathy (encore)

You can view an alternative review by someone who probably knows what they’re actually talking about here.

I’ve corrected the titles here, as I suspect these are the actual ones, but please let me know if not…