Star Searchers - Avatar Blue

  • The former Skaters artist Spencer Clark creates a richly detailed soundtrack for a hypothetical blockbuster sequel.
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  • Spencer Clark first cemented his name in the annals of experimental music with Skaters, his legendary '00s noise-then-New Age duo with James Ferraro. But through a series of obscure solo releases, he's achieved an otherworldly sound like nothing else in underground music today. The California-born, Antwerp-based musician's albums—made under aliases like Monopoly Child Star Searchers, Tarzana and Typhonia Highlife—are often hours-long epics built around dream-logic mythologies. They all come from his Emax II, a massive '80s sampling keyboard he loads with field recordings and vocalizations modulated into unrecognizable alien shapes. At first Clark's work might appear noteworthy only for weird sounds or wild concepts, but it's his virtuosic skill on the keyboard that elevates the music far beyond its pipe dreams. Clark's latest creation, Avatar Blue, was conceived as the soundtrack to an imagined sequel to James Cameron's sci-fi blockbuster. It stretches 30 sprawling tracks of oceanic New Age textures, blown-out drums and hand-crafted synth leads that range from laser-like blasts to organic guttural hiccups, all mixed live in dubby swells. On the surface, it might all seem impenetrable. The album is over two hours long and includes both an introductory audio essay and a reading syllabus of vintage sci-fi novels and astrobiology books. But as you sink into Avatar Blue, the brilliant logic of these compositions becomes clear. "Wetsuits Of Wiwaxia" and "Total Dorsal Recall" lay out the album's alternately ancient and futuristic palette in a thrilling 18-minute sweep. The former builds off a strobing synth chord as distorted chattering, wave crashes and fast arpeggios dart throughout. The latter references Total Recall, a hint at the album's enormous influence from the film composer Jerry Goldsmith, a pioneer of orchestral-synth fusions whose influence is resurgent in experimental music, most recently on Oneohtrix Point Never's heavily indebted Uncut Gems score. Though his tracks tends to shoot in every direction at once, Clark can still zone in on stunning melodies. Take the oddly tender "Reef Showers," or the quieter moments in "Jellyscans In Heatwaves" and "Zena Sharks," which act like air pockets in Avatar Blue's overwhelming expanse. There are even moments that touch on dance music, like the pulsing loop propelling "Finspray Of The Mako Shark" or the taut marimba beat of "Fuxianhua Pre-Viz Coilers." But their resemblance to anything playing in a club on this planet feels completely coincidental. Clark focuses so obsessively on each album's distinct tones that the songs within can blur together on first listen. This can prove overwhelming on releases like 2014's Pinhead In Fantasia or the H.R. Giger's Studiolo album cycle, an intensely dark and occult saga. But with each pass through, its twists and turns grows more familiar and exciting, like gradually deciphering a codex. While the watery atmospheres on Avatar Blue's two CDs are among Clark's most inviting works, there's also a sense of him meeting fans halfway. The excellent vinyl pressing trims its runtime to 45 minutes and provides an even more vivid display of his unbelievable sound design. It's the finest introduction to his work you could ask for, but Avatar Blue is still best experienced in a full deep-dive. Clark's music is undeniably challenging, but this album hides rich, unexpected rewards. All you have to do is jump in.
  • Tracklist
      Disc 1 01. Star Searchers - Avatar Blue Logo 02. Lightspots On A Sharkbody 03. Wetsuits Of Wiwaxia 04. Total Dorsal Recall 05. Freshly Sprayed Amino Tanks 06. Reef Showers 07. Emu Bay Biodomes 08. Blue-Green Algae Shadings 09. Intertidal Shadezones 10. Seaweed Covered Hi-Viz Aquanets 11. Thresher Shark Pods 12. Slitscans Of Diamond Shoals 13. Banshee Foam 14. Previsual Stingray Motion FX 15. Previsual Avatar Blue Disc 2 01. Zena Sharks 02. Chengjiang Fauna 03. Oxygen Injections-Seaspray Injections 04. Avatar Blue Logo 2 05. Jellyscans In Heatwaves 06. Pre-Cambrian Graphics Pipeline 07. Free Swimming In Link Gel 08. Wiwaxia 09. Z-Brushing Tidal Gold 10. Stingray Motion FX Logo 11. Finspray Of The Mako Shark 12. Wet Fuxianhua 13. Pikai Green Coilers 14. Marine Snow Lines (UPWORLDS) 15. Fuxianhua Pre-Viz Coilers 16. Swimming Motions Of Graphic FX