- "Oh, friends in all dimensions—can you hear our heartfelt plea? / We'd wrecked our tiny vessel, and will soon be lost at sea." The Space Lady's words on "S.O.S.," the celestial centerpiece to Mark Pritchard's latest release, The Four Worlds, signal a change in mood from his last full-length. Under The Sun, the Warp-released 2016 LP from the British producer—and his first under his own name—had a certain radiance befitting its title. But the dark-blue soundscapes of The Four Worlds, an eight-track stopgap while Pritchard works on his next album, are elliptical and doomy. Save for the gentle, thumping 4/4 of the 11-minute opener, "Glasspops," the album is beatless, comprised mostly of lush tones imbued with a haunted cloudiness.
The Four Worlds and Under The Sun have marked the latest turn in Pritchard's fascinating and storied career. Since forming the Evolution label with Tom Middleton in the early '90s, Pritchard has worked under innumerable aliases and traversed genres with ease, from his and Middleton's ambient techno as Global Communication to the hyperspeed bass music of his Africa Hitech project with Steve Spacek. He's also collaborated with the grime MCs Trim and Wiley, the drum & bass producer Danny Breaks, and Dave Brinkworth via the hip-hop of Harmonic 33 and the atmospheric drum & bass of Use Of Weapons. Taking all that into account, the dank ambience of The Four Worlds would still be a surprise to many who have followed his career.
The Four Worlds' highlights are the moments in which Pritchard peels back the curtain of ominous tracks like "Circle Of Fear" and "Parkstone Melody II," allowing for bright motifs to briefly take hold. "The Arched Window" builds on a harpsichord-like melody to evoke a skyward sense of ecstasy. "Mên-An-Tol" pulls off a similar trick with sweeping Disney strings and a gigantic-sounding thrall of organ and wordless choir vocals.
Without much more than endless stretches of sound to hang onto, The Four Worlds occasionally drifts into tedium. The record's pair of vocal cuts stand out as a result, regardless of how effective they are. There's the shadowy Gregory Whitehead collaboration, "Come Let Us," which resembles a glitch-happy variant of Current 93's gothic folk, and "S.O.S.," where The Space Lady sounds like she's ascending to a higher plane as she surveys our decaying planet. The track represents a strangely hopeful moment, even as her lyrics embody the portentous atmosphere of The Four Worlds as a whole. It's a reminder that facing the darkness of the unknown can be beautiful, too.
02. Circle of Fear
03. Come Let Us
04. The Arched Window
06. Parkstone Melody II
08. The Four Worlds