CLARK, the electronica voyager who came hurtling into our lives for Warp at the turn of the century and quickly decided his mission was to empty the bones of you – an offer in equal parts thrilling and worrying – is returning at the end of March with his ninth studio album, Playground In A Lake, for Deutsche Grammophon; an announcement he’s accompanying with a single drop, the dark vocal essay of “Small”, which you can hear below.
It’s got that trademark Clark depth and shadowplay, haunting textures and atmospheres, but with a femme fatale vocal playing over the top; haunted playroom vibes.
Clark is expanding his palette on this one, bringing in more orchestral textures, as might seem befitting of a release on Deutsche Grammophon; although the seeds flowering on this set were there all along, right back to the piano vignettes on his 2001 debut, Clarence Park.
“I’ve always wanted to record strings, but feel there’s this baggage with classical music,” says Chris.
“Even though I’ve taught myself how to read and write sheet music, I’m not putting that genre or any other genre on a silver platter.
“I’m not from an institutionalised contingent who deem a narrow range of instruments ‘the real stuff’ and everything else worthless commercial pop. I take what I admire from that world and then move on. I’m just using it as another colour.
“So I started thinking about my favourite kind of string arrangements, like Scott Walker records, where they exist amongst contrasting elements. Then I started to approach the album from a dark folk place, also with this heavy 70s’ synth style. Then came the improvisation of musique concrète, and some of my favourite modern classical and sound design obsessions, and then it clicked,” he concludes.
There’s an embedded philosophical undertow to the album too, and one which runs through Clark’s career; one of the works which informs his practice is Ernest Becker’s Denial Of Death, which discusses, Chris notes, “the potency and feeling of immortality that symbols/art/music give us, and the mortal reality of our bodies in entropy.”
As for that album title, Playground In A Lake? “[It’s] broadly a story about real climate change, but told in mythological terms. It’s about the last human on earth, the betrayal of an innocent child and becoming a grown-up; growing a shell over our lost young selves. It’s the playground we bury and a drowned planet; an extinction myth,” he says,
“It can be many things: the nuclear fallout covered by a toxic flood, a buried utopia, or buried memories. Buried creative tools and writer’s block – you have to dive deep to get to the good stuff.
“The lake is still and serene – so beautiful you want to swim across it and yes, it’s calm on one level, but sinister on another. There’s a seductive numbness to it. A deathly placid chill.”
The album features analogue instrumental talents of the calibre of Oliver Coates on cello and Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear on clarinet, 130701’s Yair Elazar Glotman on contrabass and 12-year-old choirboy Nathaniel Timoney, whose vocal recordings were directed via Zoom during lockdown.
It’s looks set to be an ambitious set from an artist we know has the talent and scope to transport us.
Clark’s Playground In A Lake will be released by Deutsche Grammophon digitally and on CD and 2xLP on March 26th; you can pre-order your copy now.