Electronic producer Clark returns with a new album released via the celebrated Deutsche Grammophon label. Simon Tucker reviews.
Release Date: 26th March 2021
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Format: 2xLP / CD / DL
Heavy themes and influences haunt Playground In A Lake, the new long player from acclaimed electronic producer Clark which is being released via Deutsche Grammophon. Influences include Ian Curtis, Popul Vuh plus the philosophical works Infinite Resignation by Eugene Thacker and Ernest Becker’s Denial Of Death. Throw in the rapidly developing climate crisis and you have an album drenched in a heaviness and melancholy however what Clark manages to do with deft musical touches and clever arrangements is never allow the heavy subject matter to overload the listener. You never feel like you are drowning in the anxiety of the modern world. Instead Clark allows plenty of optimism to shine through even in the albums darker moments.
For this album Clark gathered together musicians and singers including Oliver Coates on cello, Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear on clarinet, Manchester Collective’s Rakhi Singh on violin, AFRODEUTSCHE and Kieran Brunt on backing vocals, 130701 signee Yair Elazar Glotman on contrabass and 12 year old choir boy Nathaniel Timoney. This combination helps Clark create an album that walks the line between neo-classical and electronica. This blend also allows Clark to have fun like on Lambent Rag which manages to sound like The Doors, Kind of Blue era Miles Davis and Clark himself linking through time jamming in the ether.
A key element to what makes Playground In A Lake work is Clark’s skills with arrangements. Pieces often switch gear or direction halfway through which helps tell us the narrative that he (Clark) is laying out for us. You have the minimal intro to Small before Timoney takes centre stage. Just as Small starts to slip into lullaby Clark introduces synths which turns the song into a distant descendant of the late 70s – early 80s synth-pop pioneers. Forever Chemicals is another song where you really feel the cohesive nature of all those involved. It starts with strings, all melancholic and extremely poignant, before Nathaniel Timoney’s voice pierces the piece with a crystalline vocal that adds on another layer of emotional clout. Forever Chemicals then finishes on this low almost guttural growl that throws you off balance and makes you wonder where we are to be taken next. Album highlight Earth Systems drives the thematic influences through hard as we are presented with a piece that sits alongside the soundtrack work of Thom Yorke or the albums of Haxan Cloak with its oppressive ambience and needling, swarming synth undertones (something he repeats again on the brilliant Shut You Down). Earth Systems is as gorgeous as it is unsettling.
Playground In A Lake finds Clark at a stylistic crossroads as it manages to blend his older style with his recent soundtrack work. It is an album based on the heaviest of themes yet Clark and all the players involved never allow themselves to tread in the murky waters of cliched ‘darkness’. The boogeyman isn’t here. Instead,the album tells us that yes we may be running out of time but there is still some hope and by Clark running said hope through the album he allows us to peep into the darkest of corners whilst never for one second making us feel we may be lost forever.