Clark — Body Riddle / Throttle Clarence

Body Riddle artwork Warp’s hype machine went into overdrive for the latest release from Chris Clark. This hype included a very odd email that began:

I want to write something different to the usual shrill “Buy it it will make you better” fare. Something free of the ‘Stunning! *****’ corporate blandishments that have been born out of the marketing adjective arms race.

…and then proceeded to gush pretentiously for about four times as long as was strictly necessary.

Chris Clark’s early releases showed a lot of promise and it sounded like Body Riddle, which was three years in the making, was destined to establish him as one of the best in his field, up there with the Aphex Twins and the Squarepushers of this world.

What a let down the album turned out to be! There is nothing very offensive about Body Riddle. I just find it a bit uninteresting and bland. Clark seems to have sucked all of the fun out of himself. The production is slicker than ever, but that means nothing without a good tune or some interesting ideas.

‘Herr Bar’ is a fantastic opener, but we’ve already heard that on the Throttle Furniture EP released earlier this year. I love Throttle Furniture — a small collection of five tracks that could hardly be any better. The averageness of Body Riddle has left me scratching my head. Maybe I’m getting too old?

But tracks like ‘Frau Wav’ and ‘Springtime Epigram’ just sit there in the background, characterless. What a contrast from the vibrant material Chris Clark has brought us in the past.

The album is not without its good moments. For instance, ‘Herzog’ and ‘Ted’ are a fun pair of tracks. But most of the time it feels as though Clark is just demonstrating what he’s learned since his last album rather than concentrating on making good music.

Since his previous album, Empty the Bones of You, I have suspected that Chris Clark might be too much of a perfectionist. The album sported new versions of ‘Slow Spines’, ‘Wolf’ and ‘Gob Coitus’, none of which were particular improvements on the glimpses we had been given before.

‘Gob Coitus’ in particular — while still an absolutely amazing track — was ruined compared with the early version of the track used in a Warp Records animation competition. It seems as though Clark is a bit too tinker-happy and not really sure when it is time to stop.

What’s also noticeable about Clark’s recent material is how obvious his influences are. If ‘Night Knuckles’ wasn’t such a good track I would hate it for being such an obvious rip-off of Aphex Twin’s ‘Nannou’. The cut-up live instrumentation makes him sound more like Squarepusher and Four Tet than the Chris Clark I loved from the Clarence Park era.

It is interesting to contrast Body Riddle with the free CD that comes with the initial copies. Throttle Clarence is a collection of early Chris Clark material from the same period as the release of his first album, Clarence Park. Given that these tracks have taken over five years to see the light of day, I assume that either Chris Clark or Warp thought that this wasn’t good enough to be released at the time.

But I enjoy listening to Throttle Clarence so much more than Body Riddle. It might lack the technical mastery and slickness of Clark’s recent material, but it’s so much more fun! Body Riddle never comes anywhere close to being as fun as tracks like ‘Lady Palindrome’ or ‘Friday Bread’.

Throttle Clarence is a real treat, exhibiting a carefree Chris Clark who might not have had the same technical expertise as he does today, but certainly had an ear for a good tune that is a pleasure to listen to.

By complete contrast, Body Riddle makes you work too hard for too little reward. As I said, it’s not that there’s anything particularly bad about it. But it’s just a tad too po-faced for me. There’s nothing to latch on to. Put simply, I haven’t been able to fall in love with any of the tracks.

What a shame. I have been very excited about Chris Clark. All of his previous material has shown that he has the potential to make a truly great album. But it’s only been potential so far. And now we’ll probably have to wait for another three years before we can see if that potential will finally come to something.

3 comments

  1. Very interesting to see your reaction to Body Riddle. I must admit that I don’t agree with you much on it lacking fun… It certainly shows a more mature sound, and I suspect this is what you refer to when saying this album lacks fun, but I think the sound on Body Riddle is simply incredible. I love the grit, all the details in each track, and all the melodies that come out of that.

    There’s no doubt Chris Clark has spent much more time on this than he did on his previous album, or on Clarence Park, but I think that for the first time here, you can hear the Clark sound and not just him trying to find his way between Aphex Twin, Autechre and Squarepusher. I’ve had Body Riddle for a good couple of months, and have played it a considerable amount of times since, and I still find new layers and new depth to it. Give it some time mate, it is truly worth it.

  2. I do and don’t agree. Throttle is a lot more fun, it feels like a live or improv set, I would love to see him play live – it must be insane.
    But for a full length album he has to step it up from that – basically so you can sit down and listen, again and again – Throttle wouldn’t sustain that for long. I agree with your point about him knowing when to stop working on a track, which may account for the less raw feeling – which I thought ‘Empty the Bones of You’ had in the format of an album.
    And yes, Warp’s hype machine was a little scary.