Mark Pritchard - Under the Sun - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mark Pritchard - Under the Sun

by Justin Pearson Rating:9 Release Date:2016-05-13

On Under the Sun, the latest album from electronic musican/producer Mark Pritchard, there's a strong sense of existentialism. It can be found not just in the lyrical content within the album's small handful of vocal-guested tracks, but in the very construct of the notes and intervals, the slight change of key that hits you in the gut with a heady nostalgia that's both comforting and mournful. Its ambient atmospherics are complimentary, if not completely essential to this feeling, being both heavy and light at the same time. Throughout, it goes beyond to something almost tangible while still holding on to the delicate conventions that music like this dictates.

The album's principal success lies in its excavating power, a digging in the sand to unearth a portal that taps into the frequencies of a dream and also the past, interlinking the two much like Boards of Canada did on Music Has the Right to Children. Pritchard's Under The Sun comes close to that weirdly warm perfection, if not slightly in sonic tone, then definitely in scope: an entire, contained universe that demands surrender via a potency informed by introspection. The album lives and thrives by its title, and given its hefty length, it never feels overlong. It's big, yes, but in a more centered, gravitational way.

You don't need to look much further than a handful of the album's best instrumental tracks to see what I'm talking about: '?' isn't much more than a slow-growing drone with a few minor-keyed synth rays sent out like comfort for lost souls, and it packs quite a punch. 'Sad Alron' gets at something deeper, almost elemental, its bubbly electronics signaling an uncanny familiarity. 'Where Do They Go, The Butterflies' circles, dives and surges upward, as if to echo the question of the title with its trajectory of modulated synth flutters. 'Ems' is slow warmth expressed in doses of light, reassuring bass, like the hum of the sun in a sleepy phase. 'Khufu' is questioning in its upward phrasing, slowly radiating sound waves through a cymbal/gong-y haze.

The varied voices throughout work to ground the album, lending it some solid moments among its somewhat detached, floating essence.

The excellent 'Give It Your Choir' features vocals from electronic experimentalist/producer Bibio. It comes in like a direct ray of warmth from the sun and has a 70's-ish Pink Floyd/Moody Blues kind of feel. The chorus works to stunning effect as a mantra that gives way to cascading vocals, drifting away to a place you can almost reach out and touch. There's an aching desire to want to hold onto it.

Radiohead's Thom Yorke makes a vocal-processed appearance on 'Beautiful People', a flute-looped, lightly percussive haunting song that deals with loss.

'Infrared' has a robotic, marshal-like drum beat that bolsters its determined lyrics: "When night time falls/ Pedal to the floor/ Do or die/ We will survive."

70's-era folk singer Linda Perhacs guests on 'You Wash My Soul'. With airy guitar and floating vocals, it's a wisp of a song that embodies the definition of a dream state. It's gentle folk that flirts with new age, but its charms aren't equally matched to that often mocked genre reserved for what usually constitutes simple background noise; instead it rises above and feels entirely appropriate in the album's context of inwardness.

'Hi Red' is brief, but its bursts of "red", "blue", "green" and "yellow" are shot forth in dimension-warped, eerily muffled vocals that disturbingly seep underneath the skin to color your core with their certainty.

The universal theme of anxiety in the face of life comes into play most notably on 'The Blinds Cage' and title track 'Under The Sun.' The former is a spoken word piece performed by the rapper Beans: "Amongst the many different people and the many different places/ Where do I stand in the eyes amongst the many different faces/ As a stranger/ Peering like a spy into a window/ Without recognizing who's staring back at the face." The latter is a looped Julie Andrews sample of a mother goose rhyme: “For every evil under the sun, there is a remedy, or there is none. If there be one, try and find it; if there be none, never mind it." The song is upbeat with an almost carefree playfulness despite its serious, contemplative message.

Even the album's artwork is in sync with the otherworldliness and hard-to-pin-down emotion it contains. Never have images been so perfectly aligned with the music they represent as these.

Unlike anything you're likely to hear this year, Under The Sun manages to be entirely alien while still being utterly, relatably human. Strange, beautiful, and altogether stunning, it doesn't just exist as a thing, but is active, washing over you like rain that soaks without the discomfort of being dripping wet. Rather than providing simply a backdrop, it soundtracks the experience of soul-searching, with each song a corridor leading to a slightly different realm, trapping the ephemeral in an oozy sap that takes it from distilled to almost solidified. This internal exploration is then put in sharp focus under the heat of a magnifiying glass by that life-sustaining sphere's glow from above, its penetrating rays offering a spot to bask in as we the wandering ants try to find our way in the world.

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