Album Reviews

Mark Pritchard – Under the Sun


Over the course of two decades and with a myriad of monikers under the bridge, Mark Pritchard’s albums, short releases and collaborations have ventured from genre to genre with consistent zeal and originality. From his early ambient work with Tom Middleton as Global Communications to his equally dizzying veers into footwork, hip-hop, house, and grime, Pritchard’s music has been defined by its subtle complexity and shifts in identity and artistic base. Since 2013 however, Pritchard has settled for his releases being put out under his own name; something which, despite seeming like but a small change, has led to a greater sense of grounding and fervour somehow. Nowhere is this clearer than on Under the Sun. Released on Warp like the three EPs that preceded it, the first LP to be released under his given name is a sixteen track venture into a musical uncanny valley, a feat of subdued experimentation and a masterful melding of styles that can at points feel so comfortingly familiar, yet disquietingly distant at others. While at times it feels a touch drawn out and while there are tracks that feel like unnecessary speed bumps to the flow of the album, Under the Sun is, overall, a near sublime collection that shows an artist who has far from run out of ideas.

The album opens with the low growl of ‘?’, a composition that swells and swells until a single picked guitar note pierces through the grumbling depth. From there, ominous harpsichord and soft key themes recur to make for an entrancing introduction. These moments where the melodic patterns weave in and out of one another are central to the record’s trajectory – ‘Where Do They Go, The Butterflies’, ‘Ems’, ‘Rebel Angels’ – with low bass drones providing the fulcrum for them to dance around.

Under The Sun features a cast of collaborators, each of whom adds their own distinct flavour to their respective tracks. French dream-pop merchant Bibio provides a haunting yet enticing vocal to the album’s second track ‘Give it Your Choir’ while Thom Yorke’s vocal on ‘Beautiful People’ provides one of the album’s most head-noddlingly satisfying moments, the alterations to his voice making it at times sound almost flute-like. It is the album’s centrepiece, ‘You Wash My Soul’ featuring Linda Perhacs however, that acts as the opus its themes. While working with chamber folk tropes that are brushed with wistful familiarity, Pritchard and Perhacs somehow create an element of the uncanny around the track, introducing something eerie beneath the surface that turns what could be a comforting tune into something more complex and altogether more affecting.

This sense of familiar sounds being infiltrated by unknown textures to add a particular disquiet to the record appears again on ‘Sad Alron’, a track which feels so simple at first with its dusty, floating keys but it lingers on the mind more than that for some reason. Something about Pritchard’s composition takes ideas that are commonplace and tilts them ever so slightly to the left, making them almost unnerving, but endlessly fascinating and moreish. The same goes for ‘Cycles of 9’, a piece that could accompany a pastoral, summer evening if it were not for an ever so slightly shaking distortion beneath the surface, introducing a degree of possible menace, of anxiety.

The record’s weaker cuts are not necessarily bad, but instead take from its flow or instil impatience in the listener as it goes. Tracks like ‘Infrared’ and ‘Hi Red’ are no doubt interesting and are examples of Pritchard’s slightly more abrasive capacities but overall seem to just interrupt Under The Sun’s course. ‘The Blinds Cage’ featuring a spoken word passage from Beans is another experimental, fascinating take but clocking in at five minutes in length keeps it from maintaining the listener’s attention. It would have been a far more interesting cut to half the length.

The album’s closing title track is one of its strongest, playing again with an uncanny method. Sampling Julie Andrews singing a nursery rhyme, the track takes something familiar and comforting, turns it on its head, and transforms it into something spectral and truly beautiful. Listening to this album is like looking back on a romanticised past from a threatening future, with recognisable themes being moulded in such a way as to make them just a touch jarring, and completely enticing. Like an album of siren songs. While there are moments that interrupt that journey unnecessarily, they do not affect the album enough as to take from it too much. Pritchard has crafted a ghostly beauty on Under The Sun that will draw you in and make you wind back to the start again and again. Eoin Murray