What happened to the heavyweights from Warp Records' turn-of-the-century heyday? Aphex Twin contents himself paddling in lukewarm acid nostalgia, Boards Of Canada only have their air of mystery to trade on after the inactivity following the lacklustre “The Campfire Headphase”, while Squarepusher frets so much over which direction to take next that he risks choosing the path right up his own arse. Autechre long ago gave up the idea of recording anything remotely accessible, while Plaid's return last year went almost unnoticed. Warp itself remains as strong as ever, but it's hard to ignore the diminishing returns from its most iconic artists.
Having previously been overshadowed by his more illustrious label-mates, Clark has now overtaken them all. Ever since 2001's “Clarence Park” he has consistently put out music that has challenged both himself and his listeners. “Iradelphic” threatens to be his most successful effort yet, if partly because it's the least difficult. Only two tracks exceed 4 minutes, and none exceed 5 – the most expansive excursion, a shifting, swelling piece in 5/4 time entitled “The Pining”, is split into three parts for ease of digestion. For an often chilly artist, “Iradelphic” represents something of a heat wave. It's like Philip Larkin going to Marbella rather than ‘sunny Prestatyn’.
The change in mood is obvious from the get-go. Opening with some exquisite finger-picking, “Henderson Wrench” swooshes into a nest of layered guitars that will delight all except those who blow their amps after mistaking its initially hushed tones for the general volume. The bucolic guitar-play recalls Bibio's “Hand Cranked”, while the pastoral atmosphere and closing drum hits evoke scenes from “The Wicker Man”. And while “Com Touch” finds Clark on the more familiar, wobbly ground of synth polyphony and the occasional fearsome digital decomposition, it's still happy rather than creepy.
Occasionally Clark's unusually cheerful disposition sits at odds with his more recognisable tropes – the saw-toothed solo on “Tooth Moves” is a mite abrasive against the gentle guitar patterns underneath it, like Rick Wakeman letting loose over a John Fahey number. In fact, the album doesn't truly find its feet until Martina Topley-Bird is ushered in by the mournful melody of “Open” to lay some graceful notes over its jazzed-up ride cymbals.
Her other contribution, “Secret”, immediately follows. Indeed, it could almost be a variation of the same song, sharing as it does the same key and tempo. It develops the psychedelic edge of “Open” with a series of electronic whirrs and squelches, which bounce off an unexpected bossa nova breakdown midway through. These tracks form the album's centrepiece, although having two such vocal-lead tracks right in the middle of a mostly instrumental album does feel slightly awkward.
Fortunately, the remainder of the album keeps up the standard, if not the style. “Ghosted” is a twisted beauty, all discordant guitars and waves of noise that melt into an unexpected, softly-sung vocal refrain from Clark himself. The title is possibly a reference to Ghost Box records; the co-founder of that label, Julian House, designed the album sleeve and the track has that label's faded, spectral feel. It could almost be an outtake from Broadcast's final collaboration with The Focus Group.
It is in turn followed by a solo piano piece, “Black Stone”. Such a move could be seen as self-indulgent pretension, but it's far removed from Tom Jenkinson's irritating classical guitar interludes. The sound of the pedal being de-pressed at the end adds a level of intimacy not typical of Clark records, and you wouldn't be surprised if it popped up on the soundtrack to Shane Meadows' next feature for Warp Films.
After the enjoyable triptych of “The Pining”, the album is closed by the haunting, percussion-less “Broken Kite Footage”, akin harmonically and atmospherically to Autechre's “V Letrmx 21”. Thus, Clark remains faithful to Warp's past while signposting its future; stepping out of Clarence Park to wander down Ambivalence Avenue and beyond. At this point Clark has a fair claim to being Warp's most representative artist. An achievement or an albatross? Time will tell, but “Iradelphic” leaves you feeling confident.