Chris Clark, I thought I had him all sussed out. He’s signed to Warp (home of Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Autechre, etc.) and has a record jacket that would make even Richard James shudder with fear. I figured I would hear the typical Warp record — loomy, foreboding, grimy in essence while extremely well-polished in sound — but the 21-year-old Bristol University student provides more surprises and unexpected twists on his debut Clarence Park.
Initially, Clark does not stray from the Warp flock, as “Pleen 1930s” is a mellow, piano-laced, synth stroked composition that mirrors Aphex Twin’s more ambient material and much of the Autechre canon. “The Dogs” begins with the prototypical Warp bite, the beats are dispersed but stinging when they draw near the front of the mix, then Clark bathes them in huge strokes of synth before the punches return. “Proper lo-fi” hints at a trance framework but the fleetness of the beats prevents that from ever unfolding. Oaklands” gives the listener a much needed chance to catch his or her breath, but the vitriol returns on “Bricks”. And at this point, I thought that Clark was still exactly what I bargained for, predictably Warp but also of the high quality one expects from the label’s set of stellar signings. Yet, Clark begins an about face with “The Chase”, dreary on the surface, its touch-and-go rhythm shows Clark might have a softer side.
That side becomes fully apparent on “Lord of the Dance”. A happy-go-lucky flute loop grounds the track as Clark cuts an array of video game-esque sounds through the middle. One gets the feeling that the 21-year-old Clark might feel just as comfortable screwing around with the cheeky Bentley Rhythm Ace as he would doom and glooming with his more studious, Scottish Warp contemporaries. All of which should not detract from “Lord of the Dance” which is quite lovely, the flute combines with and supports Clark’s computer nerd ramblings in a welcome and uncomplicated fashion. “Diesel Raven”, too, has an airy, lively feel despite its more onerous title. Clark adds an electronic orchestra to a leisurely melody, jogging in more industrial beats to round out the track. Clarence Park is a welcome debut and an interesting side of Warp. Clark has the mettle which has won the label so much praise, but he also clearly possesses a good sense of humor and irony that allow this record to break outside of formula when Clark could have been quite content to remain in such safe space. It’s a sign that even before graduating university, Clark has a degree of unpretentiousness and level-headedness about his music and quick success which should translate well into the always difficult second album.