We announce the release of multifaceted musician and composer Clark’s chillingly affecting ninth studio album Playground In A Lake, on which he broadens horizons and tries new things, with profound results.
The album is released today, 26 March 2021.
Clark also today unveils the video for “Citrus” – made by Jonathan Zawada, who designed the album cover and has previously worked with Dua Lipa, Mark Pritchard, Flume and The Avalanches.
With its orchestral tropes and release on Deutsche Grammophon, Playground In A Lake may seem a departure to the casual observer, but is in fact a more illuminated development of clues from past releases. Seeds planted in Kiri Variations’ bucolic noir, the piano vignettes from Clarence Park, the folky wonder of Iradelphic, the strings on Body Riddle and Clark’s skewed symphonic rework of Max Richter’s Path 5 have all grown in prominence and vivid detail.
“I’ve always wanted to record strings, but feel there’s this baggage with classical music. 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 element. Then came the improvisation of musique concrète, and some of my favourite modern classical and sound design obsessions, and then it clicked,” proclaims Clark.
Although not sounding obviously similar, influences lurk in fibre and foundation on a subconscious, behind-the-scenes level. Bernards Herrmann and Parmegiani, Popul Vuh, Ian Curtis and Dungen all haunt the long-player in spirit.
More pronounced than the influence of other musicians though, are two philosophical tomes: Eugene Thacker’s exploration into pessimism, existence and extinction, Infinite Resignation, and Ernest Becker’s The Denial Of Death which, explains Clark, discusses “the potency and feeling of immortality that symbols / art / music give us, and the mortal reality of our bodies in entropy”.
“What is Playground In A Lake? 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,” states Clark, adding:
“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 chilI.”
With climate crisis looming large, PIAL carries the weight of the world, but rather than hopeless lamentation, it turns the impending doom into captivating sounds. Dark engrossing scenes are heavy with dread, rich in malevolent atmosphere and as gripping as horror fables. However, at points it also radiates a strangely warm, afflicted type of tranquillity: “It’s about sublimating disturbing scenarios through aesthetics. It’s music through various stages of controlled degeneration. I was aiming for decay made beautiful, so you can experience the abject without having to actually experience it,” notes Clark.
The album was recorded with string ensembles in Budapest and Berlin, featuring 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 and 130701 signee Yair Elazar Glotman on double bass. Also appearing here is 12-year-old choirboy Nathaniel Timoney, whose vocal recordings were directed via Zoom during lockdown. As well as scoring the guests’ parts, Clark himself sings and plays Disklavier, piano, synths and cello, often manipulating things electronically.
“Lovelock” opens deceptively with relatively straight-stringed contemporary leanings, before the parlour-music-from-purgatory of “Lambent Rag”’s free-dancing melody flutters untethered, with many layers piled on in a cacophony of orchestrated chaos, evoking a flurry of burnt material, blowing in a post-apocalyptic storm.
“Citrus” situates you in a concert hall at the end of the world. With the audience long expired, a lone ghostly musician plays on, his mournful tones filling the empty, crumbling void. Heartbreaking of melody, but lyrically hopeful is “Forever Chemicals”, which personifies a gentle, benevolent spirit, pursuing kindness in a cruel time.
The detuned deep ambience and tampered strings of “More Islands” find beauty in the rubble, glowing like a post-nuclear sunset on a charred earth. Perhaps an elegant eulogy to this planet, or a peaceful passing, with its warm, rich, saturated synths and soft vocals, “Small” appears as poetic lament, rather than angry protest.
A broken, decrepit music box plays ghastly, wretched blues on “Disguised Foundation”, which is sung in reptilian, febrile tongues by Clark himself, whilst the sombre piano and numbed resignation of “Suspension Reservoir” appears as a yellowed old photo, capturing lives now lost.
On “Entropy Polychord” strings swell, intermingle and talk over one another in a push-and-pull of harmony and opposition, before a behemoth of high-def darkness descends as a futuristic, high-magnitude dystopia, which encroaches from oblivion.
Referencing the deadly weather in Dante’s Inferno is the bleak, death-knell isolation of “Aura Nera”, which partners with the aptly-titled sad vapour wave of “Already Ghosts”. Rife with chill-inducing atmosphere, both tracks fill the room as if a presence, closer to hauntings in limbo than man-made recordings.
The music growing ever more malignant as it continues, by “Earth Systems”’ infinite inky blackness we reach a bigger, more threatening space, where the weight of a modern sci-fi score is summoned in brutal widescreen.
“It felt like I was damning my adult self with a surrogate child version of myself,” says Clark of “Emissary”, where Nathaniel Timoney’s child voice sings of “a frightening maze with no way out”, in a cruel but poignant juxtaposition.
The Hitchcockian chiller “Comfort and Fear” morphs into its elder brother “Shut You Down”, where all the complex harmony is reduced to a hypnotic drone. An ominous cloud arrives, casting an evil shadow closer to the Hollywood horrors of his Daniel Isn’t Real score, with noise contorting from skidding car to strangled duck to electric guitar.
Befitting the subject matter’s magnitude, “Life Outro” is a long, funereal requiem of devastating goodbye. It’s the end of the album. The shuffling off this mortal coil. The bereavement. Maybe even the end of the world.
In October 2020 Clark released the expanded edition of his acclaimed score to Adam Egypt Mortimer’s psychological horror Daniel Isn’t Real on Deutsche Grammophon – the album made Best Of 2020 lists in Mojo and Electronic Sound, and came with a Thom Yorke remix.
In 2019 Clark released Kiri Variations on his own label Throttle Records, an album which started life as the score to the BAFTA-nominated TV drama Kiri. Always moving, that same year he went back to basics and dropped a double A-side 12″ of techno rave bangers called “Branding Problem” and “Legacy Pet”, also on Throttle.
In 2018 Clark headlined Bach Evolution at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, playing a specially commissioned set that reinvented Bach’s work, accompanied by Oliver Coates. He released a double A-side of medieval futurism called “E.C.S.T. T.R.A.X.” on Throttle, and also performed a live score accompaniment to Stan Brakhage’s short film series “Dog Star Man” during Max Richter’s Sounds and Visions weekend at the Barbican.