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Mark Pritchard: Under the Sun

Under the Sun is Pritchard discovering his own voice through the voices of others who continue to inspire him today.

Mark Pritchard

Under the Sun

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2016-05-13
UK Release Date: 2016-05-12

Since 1991, Mark Pritchard has preferred to operate as an invisible hand behind UK's experimental electronic movement. Like fellow Warp label mates and West County citizens Tom Middleton and Richard D. James, Pritchard drew from the same habits of fearlessness, focusing on the freedom found in their gadgets and instruments restricted only by the absence of an imagination. Responsible for introducing electronic music luminaries, Matthew Hebert and Danny Breaks, Pritchard rarely sought credit or publicity for his influence and artistry. His most noteworthy contribution to the expansion of the musical canon was his best great and mighty Oz persona, New School Science, under the Jedi Knights moniker. Still cutting their teeth as musicians and producers, Middleton and Pritchard summoned the spirit of George Clinton and '70s funk in place of the rising IDM genre. Dance music went the same direction as free jazz had succeeding be-bop in the '60s. IDM has a place in the ever-expanding art form, but from Pritchard"s perspective, dance music had lost the narrative along the way.

Equally guilty, however, Pritchard is a producer with the spirit of a collector and a curator. Drawn to the same heady ambient landscapes and jungle rhythms as his fellow collaborators, unable to shake his techno and grime roots, his curiosity for electronic music's rich history seeps into nearly every pore like fragmented memories on his most recent release, Under the Sun. The strength of Under the Sun rests with his continued spirit of collaboration and his eclectic style, recognizing the endless possibilities of infusing pop elements into electronic music's abstract spirit.

A restrained Thom Yorke accompanies Pritchard's marimba rhythms and Massive Attack mood on "Beautiful People", rivaling the power of Yorke's most impassioned performances found on any record on the other side of Kid A. Like Yorke's tender delivery, the flute loop haunts from the very beginning, relenting only for brief moment when a swell of Yorke's angelic layered backing vocals ascends before the loop remerges for one final time. Linda Perhacs reaches deep into the spirit of her psychedelic folk past on "You Wash My Soul", a track that could easily be mistaken from her Parallelograms-era. Likewise, her whispery vocals and serene sentiments expose a side of Pritchard rarely revealed: vulnerability. Where Yorke's voice liberates Pritchard's track, Perhacs spooks like strong winds before a storm. Yet, even more compelling is how anonymous he seems during both Perhacs' and Yorke's efforts. If either track was released under any other name, the assumption would be that each song belonged to the vocalist, especially on how each track fits inexplicably well.

Rapper Beans borrows heavily from Saul Williams on "The Blinds Cage", and the last word in the title borrows heavily from its namesake, John Cage. More subdued than on other efforts, his words, on the other hand, are not. Confounding lines like "Since our birth we slowly die" and "I beseech the heaven"s to quench my desire", Beans narrates his hero's hope for freedom and the unendurable means he must take in order to attain it. Spoken word would appear suspiciously out of place, or forced, on Under the Sun, but it is neither. It works without the pretentiousness usually associated with tracks like this one. Again, Pritchard floats behind the track like a faceless collaborator. He plays with sci-fi tones that move in a flat circle. The song, like its narrative, ends unresolved, moving away with more questions than answers.

Making every attempt to maintain his private disposition, "Khufu" takes from the language of Aphex Twins' Selected Ambient Works, Volume II: formless, emotionless timbres, and unimposing drones fill the spaces slow tempo like shallowed breathing. On the other hand, "Cycles of 9" sounds like a tip of the hat to composer Steve Reich, matching his veneration for simplicity, except here he blends acoustic elements with electronic ones. Although blended, each instrument is distinctly recognizable, from organs to strings to horns. Dominance exists in the balance of Pritchard's compositions, and "Cycles of 9" underscores this approach on this and every track on Under the Sun.

In 2013, Pritchard released three EPs that reprised his enduring love for techno, house, and jungle, also blending future beats aesthetics, making him just one of many in a crowded genre. Under the Sun is Pritchard discovering his own voice through the voices of others who continue to inspire him today. Twenty-five years into his undaunted career, he has created an album that brings him proudly from behind the curtain and into the foreground for all to appreciate.


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