Dec 28, 2009

Top ten best electronica albums of 2009: part three of three

This is part three.
For part one, click here
For part two, click here.
1 - Clark - Totems Flare

Readers of this blog know I make little secret of my love for Warp Records. So it's no surprise that one of their mob finds itself as the absolute Fat Roland favourite for 2009.

But this album is justified in being number one.

Chris Clark began with Warp in 2001, releasing a succession of albums and EPs that seemed to get better as the decade strolled on. His sound was firmly entrenched in Aphex-style 'IDM' electronica; it was muckier behind the ears without being too unpleasant.

If electronica fans in dark corners started whispering that Clark had lost a little of his sheen with 2008's Turning Dragon, they needn't have fretted.

The tentative first notes of Outside Plume on his 2009 album Totems Flare sounded like robots getting up in the morning and wondering what was in store for the day ahead. To be honest, it probably represented Clark's waking realisation that he had to step things up a gear: more of the same was not an option.

So the day ahead for those yawning robots was a torrent of yelping synths, snares that sounded like a hundred people clapping, themes piling on top of themes, melodic progressions that will chime a bell for any Orbital fan, and furiously grumpy electro workouts.

An mp3 of Growls Garden preceded the album, and is the second track here. It starts with vocals about sunbeams before ripping into the nastiest piece of pop perfection you've ever heard: a catchy choon with a full-on dance beat, all bathed in an insistent brown fuzz. It is the most startling and pompous electronica tune of 2009.

The bobbling beginning of Rainbow Voodoo ends up sounding like Front 242 in a Benny Hill video. And this one gets nasty too, all scratches and farting machines, before switching all the lights on and becoming something Mario would mushroom-dance to.

But if I'm painting this album as a nasty, snarling beastie, I'd be doing it a terrible service. There is straight electronica too, like the understated Luxman Furs, the acid house of Look Into The Heart Now, and Primary Balloon Landing's sweeping interlude.

And that's not all. There is beauty in bucket-loads on Totems Flare.

The speed junglism of Totem Crackerjack careers into a tinkling melody and a wibbling synth solo that would warm the frostiest of frowns. Suns Of Temper is a low-down, driving techno track that floats into a thin, heavenly chorus before descending into a bombastic drum anthem smothered in chords that wail like the titular Wild Things in Spike Jonze's recent film.

Future Daniel returns to the crunchiness of the first few album tracks before leading us down a crazy-paved path of a ever-so-slightly eighties tune, while Talis, another vocal piece, is melancholic and mega and would sit comfortably with the simple guitar-led closer of Absence.

Clark's Totems Flare was a bold statement. You can not only produce uncompromising electronica that rips at your speakers while at the same time swathing you in gentle melodic bliss: you can even add vocals to it and not sound like a tosser.

And so Mr Christopher Clark finishes the decade in style. If you want to know what my favourite track title is from Totems Flare, see this post. In the meantime, listen to Growls Garden and buy the best electronica album of 2009 from Bleep or Boomkat or Piccadilly.

This is part three.
For part one, click here
For part two, click here


Anonymous said...

My copy of Totems Flare will be arriving some time this week. It will sit nicely next to my copies of Glass Swords, Crooks And Lovers, Visions, Until The Quiet Comes and Galaxy Garden. If it wasn't for you plugging them I would never have heard of any of those. THANK YOU SO MMMMUCH

Fat Roland said...

That is probably the loveliest comment ever! Good music's good, innit?