Like the shifting atmosphere of a distant planet, Chris Clark’s music is subject to violent extremes. With little warning, a reassuring beat might furiously morph into an instrumental storm, breaking just as suddenly into a diamond rain of twinkling synths. The British musician’s delight in wrong-footing expectations has been one of the few constants in a career that has swerved wildly—from tricky IDM to off-kilter hip-hop beats, and from blistering techno to hushed minimalism. At his propulsive best, Clark dazzles with both the density and dynamism of his music. But in contrast to the explosive changes that have taken place from record to record, Clark’s work has also undergone another, more subtle evolution. In recent years, as he has amassed a growing body of soundtracks for film and TV, he has developed an ear for emptiness, one that has both heightened the drama of his music and accentuated its suggestion of three-dimensional space.

The architecture of Clark’s production has never sounded airier or more fluid than it does on his latest record, Sus Dog, where he foregrounds one instrument he has largely left in the margins: his voice. Executive produced by Thom YorkeSus Dog is warm and immediately gratifying, offering the musician’s fragile falsetto as a graceful counterpoint to his intricate and sometimes breakneck production.

Historically, Clark’s experiments with voice have yielded mixed results. By turns angelic and menacing, the vocal accents on 2017’s Death Peak are crucial to that record’s apocalyptic appeal, while the garbled, ultra-processed growls and chanted raps on 2009’s Totems Flare have aged poorly. Here, rather than slapping his voice on top of the mix, Clark has learned to accommodate it. Working with a more limited palette of alternately boxy and lightspeed synths interwoven with acoustic instruments, Sus Dog is an ornate but fleet-footed synth-pop album brimming with some of the loveliest music he’s ever made. Clark glides over his beats, using his high, plaintive voice to nudge a song into gear before soaring on its pent-up momentum. “Clutch Pearlers” levitates over a bed of delicate music-box plucks, while on “Town Crank” he surfs a blaring synth pulse reminiscent of Suicide at their most antagonistic, his voice rising above the chaos as the track veers into the red.

With the exception of Arca’s mentorship with Björk, no electronic producer has had a more reliable singing coach than Clark under the tutelage of Thom Yorke. At first you might think that Yorke himself is tearing into “Town Crank,” but the similarity between the two men is limited to their beatific falsettos. Clark’s voice, while handsome, lacks the lower range and piercing, corroded edge that Yorke brings to Radiohead’s most emotive tracks, a quality that he more than makes up for with the sheer violence of his production. Apart from the bridge of “Bully,” where he sighs an ultra-Yorkean line—“Drift off in traffic/Colonized by your phone”—in a particularly Yorkean way, he largely forgoes replicating any of his mentor’s vocal tics, even when they harmonize together on “Medicine.”

The power of Clark’s singing derives from the shapes that his voice makes out of air as much as the content of the songwriting itself. He opens “Alyosha” with a tinny a cappella refrain, repeating “I want to believe” in a hurt tone before his voice cleaves into separate spheres that pit mature practicality against raw adolescent distrust. “Forest” is almost entirely instrumental until a bright, multi-tracked chorus to rival Fleet Foxes rises brilliantly out of the mist. In one of the record’s most striking moments, at the title track’s emotional nadir, he leaps an octave from a mournful croon into an aching note of despair as a detuned synth bleeds over the song’s swelling acoustics like a bruise.

Because Clark’s production is so finely detailed, one risk in making the leap to conventional songwriting is that his words might appear crude in comparison. But his approach as a lyricist remains resolutely off-kilter, pitched between vague but highly evocative ribbons of text and a clear-eyed sensitivity that approaches the unknowability of human behavior from odd angles. “Alyosha,” a song whose title might be a reference to the virtuous but passive protagonist from The Brothers Karamazov, is full of unanswerable, emotionally naked pleas for understanding that are met in turn by one of the producer’s most scorching and merciless techno refrains. On “Dismissive,” he achieves a Zen-like clarity, recognizing cruelty for the shortcoming that it is before transforming derision into drive. “And they can be as cynical and dismissive as they like” he croons, “In fact please carry on/It’s all fuel to the fire.”

For years, Clark’s best work has toggled between beauty and brutality, blistering noise and otherworldly calm. Sus Dog is also situated between those two poles, but in leveraging his voice like this, Clark has discovered not only a new way to guide listeners through his maze-like production, but also of expressing the strain of navigating such wild terrain. On the closing “Ladder” he sings wearily over mournful piano about “living on a ladder stuck between two floors,” which itself could be a bleakly beautiful metaphor for the zigzagging course of his own music. On Sus Dog, Clark harnesses his career’s wild atmospheric extremes; it’s as though for the first time, he truly felt the weather in his bones.

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