Chris Clark certainly can’t be accused of laziness. Totems Flare is his fifth album for Warp and his eleventh release since 2001. Last year’s Turning Dragon pitched him at the top of his game, which is hard-hitting, skewed techno, and this years’ Growls Garden EP proves a flirting indication of what was to follow with Totems Flare. It seems that losing his forename has freed Clark up to evolve musically.
-Growls Garden’ is a sophisticated piece of electronica with jarring keyboards, bringing Clark’s vocals to the fore for the first time. That the track fits well on Totems Flare should tell you what to expect. Furthermore, opening tune -Outside Plume’ is erratic, choppy, slightly abrasive and rammed with ideas. It’s a concise abstract of the album as a whole.
If there’s any formula here, it’s that more is more.
While incorporating elements of his previous work, Clark continues to push boundaries. -Rainbow Voodoo’ bolts 8-bit goodness onto trash metal beats, rag-time ‘piana’ and muddy vocals forming a sanguine cartoon-electronic jam.
The album spins in many directions, -Primary Balloon Landing’ is ambient and lush, while -Suns of Temper’ is Germanic and cold, a nod to his earlier material. Throughout, gut-punching, high-end techno is nuanced with early -90s rave chimes and old school dance chromatics. -Totem Crackerjack’ splits the album in two, a funky instrumental with a scattered bass. The eerie, disembodied vocal on -Future Daniel’ is instantly engaging, revealing an overt pop melody; linear and straightforward in comparison to album closer, -Absence’, a warm and familiar looping guitar piece, hinting that Clark is spending some time with his pal Bibio.
Totems Flare is a double-edged sword. Clark’s vocal draws the listener in, creating hooks within hooks, making it more accessible than anything he’s done before, while the production is often busy, disorientating and chaotic. At times it’s a challenging listen, bordering on divisive. However, with a bit of investment the result is a rewarding, intelligent album.