Totems Flare

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Showing no signs of slowing down, just after releasing the oceanic-themed Growls Garden EP, in 2009 Chris Clark released his third album in a trilogy of likeminded full-lengths for Warp Records. Progressing from the baroque-electro of 2006's Body Riddle and the full-bodied techno blasts of 2008's Turning Dragon, Totems Flare combines both of those prior styles and adds IDM, drum'n'bass, ambient techno, and electroclash to the mix. The song "Growls Garden," which also made an appearance on the same-named EP, marks Clark's first attempt at singing and he does so adequately: lazily talking through harmonic filters like the male version of Miss Kittin or a member of Kraftwerk. Half of the songs on Totems Flare have these robo-vocals, and it's a nice way to break up the album -- not that it needs it. The instrumentals are doozies on their own. Even the songs that start slowly have big payoffs, with "Luxman Furs," "Totem Crackerjack," and "Future Daniel" reaching fiery climaxes of distorted synths and gut-bustin' beats by the three-quarter points. Clark has become a true master of dynamics, and he takes so many chances mixing and matching electro styles from various regions (Detroit, Berlin, Geneva, etc.) that each track is engaging throughout. In contrast to the submarine sonar sounds, bumblebee basslines, and hard-thumping beats of "Growls Garden," "Absence" lacks a beat entirely, and is made up of simple lo-fi acoustic guitars and ambient reverb. In all the ground that Clark covers -- from Groovebox-flavored acid riffs to 8-bit Casiotone blips -- it never seems like he's trying to force it all together, which is precisely what makes it seem so mature in comparison to earlier releases. It flows. Because it's not as insanely cut as your typical IDM, it works as subtle, non-distracting background music, but it's still detailed enough to make for some enthralling headphone candy as well.

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