Longtime prolific electronic producer Chris Clark aka Clark has approached his tenth album with the help of Thom Yorke, who executively produced the album entitled Sus Dog.
Sus Dog is released on May 26th on Clark’s own Throttle Records. Yorke also sings and plays bass on the song ‘Medicine’.
Says Yorke of his role:
“Chris wrote me to say he’d started singing, looking for feedback/advice or whatever, cuz it was kind of new shark-infested waters for him. I’ve been into what he does for years, and I ended up being a kind of backseat driver as he pieced all the oddness of it together, which was fascinating. I wasn’t surprised to discover he came at singing and words through another door completely, which to me was the most interesting and exciting part. The first thing he sent me was him singing about being stuck between two floors and I was already sold. To me the way he approached it all wasn’t the usual singer songwriter guff thank god; it mirrored the way he approached all his composition and recording, but this time it had a human face. His face.”Thom Yorke
The album is preceded by the song ‘Town Crank’,
About Sus Dog
Purveying a sort of skewed-psychedelic-hardcore-dream-pop-brilliance, prior to beginning Clark “kept on thinking ‘what would it sound like if The Beach Boys took MDMA and made a rave record?’”. This early seed grew into something epic – abundant with aural and poetic depth, clues, inferences and in-jokes. It’s clearly brilliant and immediately enjoyable, but there’s much to unpack: It’s a big but tantalizing undertaking, where plenty more treasure can be discovered amidst layers of ambiguity, obliqueness and abstraction.
The most apparent central juxtaposition here is the high-voltage synth power combined with delicate falsetto vocals, emphatically exploring the human condition; a complex, distant cousin of the ‘keep pushin’ positivity found in 90s house music. Dealing with “all these mixed emotions, clashing, crooked emotions, at war with yourself, acting out”, Chris captures the modern day, overloaded malaise. We can all be weird, or awkward, or struggling, and that’s okay. We’re all just trying to get by. This aural companion is uplifting, excitable, troubled, conflicted and beautiful all at once, much like we all can be.
Not so much a breath of fresh air as an invigorating hurricane blast to the head, the life affirming valve-amp-fuzz-sawtooth of ‘Alyosha’ sets the tone. A loose love song written by a recovering utopian, it typifies Clark’s incomparable myriad of fantastical puzzle pieces, which with a genius’ touch are inexplicably stitched into fully-functioning, mad machines.
Maintaining the opener’s momentum, ‘Town Crank’ is a pummelling, perpetually elevating burst of white hot pop power, which culminates in a technicolour explosion.
An inevitable crash following the sonic sugar-high of its precursors ‘Sus Dog’ is the album’s plaintive piano moment, but adds hefty thwacking drums and huge swathes of sound. “Anika’s vox completely surprised me, and turned this into something I hadn’t expected at all”, he comments on the track’s co-vocalist. His own “file it away now” part is terse and opaque, but sung in a way that isn’t, and although morbidly describing “suffocating alone in the dark”, you get the impression this is more wryness than genuine despair.
Set to a bright carefree ditty with Reich-ian tuned mallets, ‘Clutch Pearlers’ deals with social awkwardness and insecurity, but, as with much of the record, definitely isn’t earnest; more sideways, with a self-awareness and self-deprecation ensuring things never descend into the air violin sin bin.
A relatively straight juncture, ‘Empty Streets’’ gorgeous melancholic swell of piano and cello serves as the first of two mid-point palette cleansers, before the shower of darting arpeggios in ‘Wedding’ bounce like silver rain off a mirrored pavement.
A ghost story of sorts, scratching below the surface for remnants to help make sense of today’s chaos, ‘Forest’ is inspired by the idea of time-lapse footage of an ordinary street, going back hundreds, or even thousands of years. “All those lives lived, all that energy, movement and potential, where does it all go, all that entropy? It’s insane to believe in ghosts, but also kind of insane to not believe in ghosts”, he muses.
So detuned it’s almost in two keys, the bright bleepy sparkle of ‘Dolgoch Tape’ seems to personify empathy. it was written for a friend, whom Chris was “trying to bring something consoling, and satisfying, but not in a fobbing-them-off way.”
Tender but also caustic, and essentially one long chorus, ‘Bully’ begins solemn and slow, before the second half fans outwards into 60s psych whimsy, ending far sweeter than it began, with, as Chris describes, “a bit of a Thundercat remix of Beach House vibe, or visa versa.”
A prime example of his songwriting prowess – despite being powered by an insistent rubbery staccato – ‘Dismissive’ still manages to sound classy, and classic. “It’s a pep talk in mumble voice to kind of soften its stridency. It’s the perils of saying ‘fuck the world I’m going at it alone’. Radiant. Bitter. All these mixed emotions playing out on someone’s face”, states Chris.
On the languid, staggering rhythms of ‘Medicine’, with verses shared between Yorke and Clark, the latter’s lyrics traverse a “a perfect day in nature with my wife, but also chancers, dread of time, humans as animals, addiction, the inner judge and how it’s always other people’s narcissism, right?” Clearly no ‘Love Me Do’ and all the more interesting for it, the record is awry ‘til its very last, and the outro, ‘Ladder’, simply and aptly repeats, “living on a ladder stuck between two floors” – leaving the impression you’ve just experienced something perplexing, but profound.
Context and reference wise, ‘Sus Dog’ is singular; sounding like nothing other than Clark. Elements from his oeuvre and new colours are combined to fully form a complete communication. It’s a culmination of every past experiment, questioning, pushing his own boundaries, and teaching himself. Not to discredit his feted catalogue, but this feels like a pinnacle, and a flourishing. This is an important album by a vital frontrunner. “It’s a lifetime’s worth of listening to songs and working out how to make them, tuning into how to customise all the other elements to my tastes. It feels like my debut, in a way”, he concludes.
Niall Byrne is the founder of the most-influential Irish music site Nialler9, where he has been writing about music since 2005 . He is the cohost of the Nialler9 Podcast and has written for the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Cara Magazine, Sunday Times, Totally Dublin, Red Bull and more. Niall is a DJ, founder of Lumo Club, event curator and producer of gigs, parties & events.