[25 March 2008]
There must be something in the water. Just a week or so ago I delivered a review for Daedelus’ new disc, Live at Low End Theory, which featured a sharp turn to the left for that producer, away from the well-heeled concentration of his earlier material and towards a much rowdier, breakcore-influenced sound. The touchstones are obvious: Girl Talk, Dan Deacon, Kid 606. Quietude is falling out of vogue, with self-serious crate-diggers being eclipsed by fun-seeking college-aged hipsters.
Is that a reductive, downright simplistic explanation for a much more complicated phenomenon currently seen in the constantly evolving world of electronic music? Without a doubt. However, the fact remains that the music has definitely shaken off its mid-decade doldrums, and in the process rediscovered a great deal of the energy that went missing sometime around the release of the 10,000th Thievery Corporation CD. Yeah, I love Kompakt as much—probably more—than anyone else. But it is also possible to be a bit too urbane, a bit too soft-spoken and cerebral. Even Autechre’s latest features a bit more in the way of actual living, breathing funk—admittedly, given those guys, a relative measurement. But still.
In 2006, Clark—known to his mother as Chris Clark, the name under which he recorded until recently—released Body Riddle, a universally lauded example of modern IDM that took as its signature theme the human body and the mysteries of its interior. As you might expect from its title, it was a thoughtful piece of work: a riddle to be unfolded through the exploration of great depth. But now, in the year 2008, Clark’s turned from teasing out riddles to wholesale transformation. Although it might seem rather oblique on first examination, Turning Dragon is actually a very apt description of what exactly happens to Clark on this album. From mild-mannered cerebral electronic music producer, Clark has changed into an enormous, stomping, fire-breathing dragon.
The change is obvious from the very first moment. “New Year Storm” begins with an oscillating 303 line, very much an old-school acid touch, bending and warping for a moment before the beat touches down. And the phrase “touching down” is no accidental turn-of-phrase: the track hits the ground like a 747, loaded for bear with a roar and a boom.
The album plays like a single extended track, and seems almost improvisational in parts—which would make sense, considering the material was developed on tour over the last year or so. There’s a massive amount of energy throughout. A track like “For Wolves Crew” never abandons the hard, clattering beat throughout the running time, but also develops a number of interesting melodic elements, building in intricacy and intensity for the first five minutes, before evaporating into a slightly less intense denouement. But before you can get comfortable with the softer feel, the track segues into “Violenl”, which picks up on the rhythmical backbone of the preceding track—sort of a shuffling, modified two-step—but turns it into something a bit darker, chugging along like Burial as remixed by Speedy J.
And so throughout the album. Although the same pounding, merciless beat continues across almost the entirety of the album, there’s also a great deal of variety in the types of sounds utilized: there are brief snatches of acoustic guitar, some warped tinkling pianos, Aphex-worthy breakbeats, and even, towards the end, some glorious synth washes lurking on the edge of the beats. It’s a hard album, but not without snatches of grace. Closing track “Penultimate Persian” is no less percussive than anything preceding it, but it’s also far more mordant, almost melancholy, built on a disassembled synthesizer riff that seems to have wandered in off a Squarepusher LP. Amidst the banging and clattering, there are moments of rare beauty. A whole bunch of sound and fury, signifying quite a lot for those who can give themselves completely to this overwhelming, physically powerful music.