Clark - Sus Dog album review: dance producer steps out of the shadows
Generally speaking, we don’t expect dance producers to sing. Presumably, they have all those distracting special guests and blinding light shows because most of them would sound like a walrus having a colonoscopy if they ever dared to step out from behind their towering banks of buttons and wires. Calvin Harris gave it a go in his early days, admittedly, before correctly deciding that the world would be better off hearing Ellie Goulding, Dua Lipa and countless other glamorous stars singing his songs. But if you ever want to hear The Chemical Brothers or Orbital singing you’ll have to join them in the shower.
So maybe it’s unsurprising that St Albans producer Chris Clark has got into his forties, with over two decades of instrumental album releases behind him, before it occurred to him to use his voice. If anything, before now he’d been sinking even further into the background, entering the world of film and TV soundtracks with recent music for Apple TV+’s Julianne Moore vehicle Lisey’s Story and the psychological horror Daniel Isn’t Real. His more piano-based fare is beautiful but well suited to the kind of music-to-revise-to playlists that are designed to be ignored.
So when Alyosha opens this album - with Clark’s falsetto on its own, repeating the refrain “I wanna believe” - it immediately sounds like this is a different artist. “It feels like my debut, in a way,” he has said. A song such as Clutch Pearlers still has the kind of pacey beats and snaking, fast-moving synths of his earlier work, but his voice is the focus, dominating the song in both higher and lower registers.
It might be Thom Yorke who put him up to it. The Radiohead man is a long-time fan and they’ve remixed each other in the past, Yorke bringing a harsh spookiness to Clark’s Isolation Theme in 2020 after Clark had given mechanical propulsion to Yorke’s solo track Not the News the year before. Here Yorke is credited as “executive producer” or as he puts it, “a kind of backseat driver”, offering advice and feedback on how to step into the spotlight after so long in the shadows.
And lo and behold, he sounds a bit like Radiohead, especially when his voice is allowed to be especially exposed and fragile on the closing ballad, Ladder. Yorke and Clark share vocals on Medicine and they aren’t far apart in style. Though Clark is still capable of sending his songs whizzing off in strange, exciting directions, this time it sounds more like a human being is doing it.