It may take a while to really click, but when it does you’ll find Under The Sun really gets under the skin. It’s a potent mix of styles expertly ordered and meticulously produced by Pritchard, and one of the best things to come out on Warp in some time.
The musical career of the indefatigable Mark Pritchard has become so broad over the years it’s borderline impossible to follow for any but the most musically passionate and eclectic. Back in the days when Global Communication were making a huge impression in the ambient world, Pritchard had already been mixing things up in often totally contradictory ways with projects like Reload, Jedi Knights or Link & E612.
He later experimented wildly, further diversifying and spinning off into other pseudonyms, collaborations and parallel projects like Afrika HiTech, Troubleman and Harmonic 33. Not so surprising, then, to find him releasing an album like Under The Sun under his own name that bears little resemblance to any prior work, bar a retro but more restrained and less tongue-in-cheek bent taken from Harmonic 33.
On opening piece “?” (previously released in 2009) the distant thrum of a car engine swims into sonic focus and then hangs suspended, like curls of vapour drifting through shafts of light. Or is a motorcycle engine? A washing machine? A plane? Either way, it’s a revealing opening to Under The Sun, containing as it does threads of sixties and seventies nostalgia and a Radiophonic Workshop experimental sensibility that underpins the majority of this majestic new LP.
Witness the prog-rock vocoders and analogue synths on “Falling,” the heady mix of kosmiche, Mu-ziq and Boards of Canada doco-backing track on the fluttering “Where Do They Go The Butterflies?” or the seventies movie soundtrack flutes and plaintive strings of “Cycles of 9” that’s pure music for reminiscing. And then there’s the sixties black and white Doctor Who soundtrack of the mysterious “Khufu,” or the color-cycling psychedelia of the seventies-tinged sci-fi jungle of “Dawn of the North.”
The spectacular “Ems” seems to be channeling ‘Dalek Invasion Earth: 2160 A.D.’ with retro-futuristic tesla charges, flashing control panel chirps and electrical pulses. Swathes of additional complexity arrive in layers of woozy, dreamlike ambient pads and hazy drones, and someone appears to be standing standing too close to the automatic door sensor. But please… don’t move… it’s just perfection.
Pritchard has worked hard once again to defy categorization, and curios like the night-flight pounding of “Infrared,” the questionable Beans beat-poetry and wild, Radiophonic Workshop sound collages of the “The Blinds Cage” or the stuttering modernity of the first half of “Rebel Angels” that melts into a solution of pure, blissful ambience do precisely that.
Under The Sun is also shot-through with guest vocalists that get off to a particularly fine start with Bibio’s sumptuous, multi-tracked chorus of satin smooth vocals playing off perfectly against a backdrop of kosmische twinkle and one-two shuffle. It holds a clear advantage over the others by appearing so early on, and arguably eclipses the gorgeous and by turns distorted and then crystal-clear intonations of the currently on-fire Thom Yorke on “Beautiful People.”
Bizarrely, the album’s centerpiece is “You Wash My Soul” featuring the intimate, delicate and vulnerable vocals of Folk singer Linda Perhacs. It oozes pastoral beauty but feels sorely out of place thanks to its minimal, acoustic content devoid of the experimental flourishes and electronic manipulation featured almost everywhere else.
All these broad brush strokes and experimental test subjects are by turns playful, surprising and as eclectic as one would come to expect from Pritchard, and impressively, it really works, even though it’s frequently when he returns to more ambient climes that Under The Sun truly shines.
A case in point is “Sad Alron” which announced the album in the first place. As has been remarked upon over social media, it’s quite easy to envisage placing this on repeat and just melting away to it over the course of an entire day. It is elite Pritchard and almost a shame it’s so damn short.
It may take a while to really click, but when it does you’ll find Under The Sun really gets under the skin. It’s a potent mix of styles expertly ordered and meticulously produced by Pritchard, and one of the best things to come out on Warp in some time. And that artwork is stunning. Grab this on double-vinyl if you can.
Under The Sun is available on Warp.