A tense global tale told through modern classical music and electronica.
Clark first caught my attention with his 2019 album ‘Kiri Variations’ which I still find profoundly beautiful and haunting in equal measure. Often producers get lumbered into the electronica tag without thought but over the last seven years of his musical career, Clark has increasingly found new ways to expand his sound. ‘Playground in A Lake’ does this by teaming up with Deutsche Grammophon to create an unusual classical based tale on global warming and the next generation.
The album contains sixteen tracks that flow beautifully and there are several elements that Clark instils into the narrative early on. Firstly, tracks often contain evocative string arrangements that cross over into electronica or vice versa and sometimes it is tricky to tell where the change occurred. These sections often transition between sweepingly beautiful and slightly overwrought and tense too as they circle around similar patterns and themes. The Budapest Art Orchestra make a fine job of the scoring elements on the album.
Other tracks feature child vocalists. The children’s choir narrates moments in time and tricky decisions the world is making early on in the album. His voice is of innocence and that is played up to with pizzicato synths, jaunty piano and strings and playful tuned percussion.
Where ‘Playground In A Lake’ excels is that over the course of the album, we start off romantic, bustling, playful and carefree. By the time we hit ‘Disguised Foundation’ and ‘Suspension Reservoir’ though, we are feeling dread and tension in each chord and note. Yes, there may be beauty in places but now things feel uneasy and unsettling. ‘Entropy Polychord’ feels like bustling clouds of strings, harps and tape noise reaching a nadir of sorts. It feels vast and pastille at the same time until metallic power notes burst out like alien death chimes. I felt like I was listening to ‘War of the Worlds’.
As the album moves into its final third, that dread and drama begins to take centre stage. ‘Aura Nera’ is a hazy metallic buzz that is designed to overwhelm. Inside the noise are organ drones that ring out but are lost in the chaos. It sounds like slow-motion church bells. Later in the album this more apocalyptic washed out horror becomes angrier and hostile. With composer Yair Elazar Glotman for company ‘Earth Systems’ is a taut and angry tipping point into oblivion. It is a near five-minute musical rendition of Mother Nature reaching out with a final outstretched hand and distant cry for help. I’m not usually a man who connects with these types of tracks but this one evoked all kinds of feelings in me.
‘Emissary’ carefully channels the noise of crowds into a creepy choir boy piece. The whole piece feels ghostly and detached from reality. ‘Shut You Down’ then leads us through a chaotic industrial horror machine. Pipe organ belly synths pulsate over Glotman’s angst of radio screams or guitar feedback. It feels quite final but Clark ends the album with the eleven-minute ‘Life Outro’ instead. This extremely long slow burn of distant power synths will appeal to drone and generative synth lovers. It takes a while to really hit its point but when the brass and strings join in, it feels quite epic and a bit like a dystopian epitaph.
I found ‘Playground In A Lake’ to be a real musical journey. In the course of an hour, I feel like I heard a musical tale of how we ruin the next generations planet. Of course, you can park the climate message and simply enjoy a gritty classical synthwave album (without drums). Whilst some might get a bit lost as the album becomes more abstract over melody later on, it made perfect sense to me and clicked. I think this will be high on my end of year list.
Recommended track: Lambent Rag
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