It seems appropriate to start at the end of Chris Clark’s sophomore effort, Empty the Bones of You — after all, his work is primarily a mish-mash of found sounds and grizzled electronics, perplexingly assembled together into a relatively coherent whole with little respect for traditional musical form. Cold electronic winds blow over “Betty,” the album’s closer, as horns and tones and strings bleed together into an astoundingly dense wash of sound. But while the layers reveal themselves temptingly at times, it becomes difficult to separate pattern for the sake of song and pattern for the sake of pattern. Much of Empty the Bones is full of life, and some of it is absolutely overflowing with creativity, but sometimes the consciousness of the tunes is in doubt, and during these moments the quality inevitably follows it downward.
The album excels when it fights itself from piece to piece, like a schizophrenic without meds. One minute it can be pleasant and sunny, and the next you’re under the bed calling for your mommy. The crunchy bass of “Early Moss” bounds along with the sound of chirping crickets, then slowly gives way to echoing tones insinuating an approaching menace. “Tycan” is especially indecisive, as its pulsing beat gets doused in a wash of affable melody. After a short pause, the track evolves into a broken-down hip-hop beat. Seemingly finished, it shifts shape again to bring together the more tender bits of all of the complex elements. The watery sounds of “Wolf,” the clear highlight, are periodically besieged by glitches before Clark peels away layers, revealing the origin as a solitary piano.
But it seems that for every “Wolf” there’s a “Farewell Track,” which isn’t bad, but isn’t very engaging either. Many artists have pasted beats over droning sounds, and there’s a reason for that — it sounds cool. But at this point, we require a bit more to hold our attention, something that Clark forgets from time to time. He has said of the album, “These are the last melodic tracks I will ever make. I wanted them to say everything about melodic electronic music I could possibly want.” Empty the Bones is a step in an interesting direction, but the album may have been better served as an EP. Clark’s strengths clearly lie in shaking the beehive of form, however, and I’m looking forward to his next project.