ALBUM REVIEW by Brian Howe:
Think about the basic properties of beat-oriented electronic music. It emphasizes dynamic action, feelings of speed, impressions of light-- extremes and intricacies of sensation. It tweaks your senses with creative deformations of time and space, with strictly engineered frameworks lurking beneath sleek or gaudy facades. And as Simon Reynolds credibly argued in Energy Flash/Generation Ecstasy, it strives to create experiences instead of describing them. Doesn't it sound a lot like the state fair, and make it seem crazy that tinny speakers still blast mostly rock, rap, and country hits across the rides? Imagine Lindstrøm's slopes and plunges on your roller coaster; the Field's nested spins on the Tilt-A-Whirl.
In an obscure corner of the midway, Chris Clark mans the funhouse. He lays out certain conditions-- dark twisty passageways, treacherous stairs, and moving platforms-- but doesn't suggest that you experience them in any particular way. His songs are divided into bizarre chambers of clashing design. He's the rare case where a heavy-handedly metaphorical approach like this seems defensible. In interviews, Clark holds forth at length on process and ideas while neatly sidestepping taxonomical points. He has his go-to tricks: His specialty is the cataclysmic anthem, cobbled together from homemade break beats, glitchy jags of Euro- and acid-house, pockets of concussive noise, honeycombed synth lines, and contoured masses of distortion, all piled up in lunging heaps of coarse texture. He really doesn't seem to make any type of music, which means that there's no background proposition or guideline, and metaphor might be the only way to talk about it. As in the funhouse, you have to make your own way through.
Clark's voice works best when he uses it like just another sound source; say, as a stuttering, FX-laden pulse in "Look Into the Heart Now". Your attention is drawn to details like this because the compositions often feel under-imagined as songs. The aforementioned tracks make the first half of the album feel jumbled and cluttered. The fizzy syncopation of opener "Outside Plume" is enticing, but its lumbering synths and beat-dropping tangents thwart its momentum. Things do start coming together after the utilitarian vamp "Luxman Furs": "Totem Crackerjack" uses gusts of noise to enhance, not derail, its cadence, and has a confidently measured stride that carries it intelligibly from breakneck drums to delicate arpeggios. The home stretch has a satisfying continuity-- the revved-up but beatific "Future Daniel" runs into the rewinding ambiance of "Primary Balloon Landing"; the dark drive of "Talis" and "Suns of Temper" dissolves into the gentle guitar whorls of closer "Absence". That's how funhouses are supposed to work-- we know the chaos is an illusion, designed for our enjoyment by an orderly hand. Otherwise, they're just confusing and enervating.
Read the full review: