It’s hard to know what to think about Under The Sun, the latest album from UK-born, Australia-based producer Mark Pritchard. Or rather, it’s hard to know what to feel when listening to it. On the one hand, the chords are light and airy, floating through the air to greet your ears with a cheery wave. On the other… well, it’s hard to explain. If on the surface the music provides a happy appearance, then thematically it’s grounded in melancholy.
Mark Pritchard’s previous work includes EPs under various names, most famous of which is Harmonic 313. But while H313’s music is more techno, anchored in steady beats, Pritchard opts for a lighter and more abstract approach with Under The Sun. A fair few tracks simply refuse to have a beat, instead letting the melody step forward and have at it. One particular standout is Falling, where three separate melodies weave between each other, vying for the listener’s recognition. You hear one melody stand out, then seconds later it fades from your attention as another melody captures you. The melodies themselves remain constant in volume throughout the track however, so any perceived change in prominence is purely due to the complexity of the music. It’s masterfully done.
Of course, there are tracks where a more traditional electronic influence can be seen, with a click or a kick forming the base on which the rest of the track is built. Tracks like Beautiful People and Give It To Your Choir form the most stunning examples of this. Both tracks also have vocals, featuring Thom Yorke (yes, that one) and Bibio respectively. Beautiful People in particular is phenomenal, and is really a snippet of the album as a whole. Airy production, with barely a heavy note, but there’s an undercurrent of sadness.
This is largely the case for much of the album. It somewhat reminds me of Porter Robinson‘s Worlds, from 2014, albeit with less of the mainstream electronica influences. Both share a feeling of being a soundtrack to a dying world, but looking at the smaller, more individual parts of that world. It’s beautiful, but not on an epic scale, instead choosing a more precise and nuanced view.
My main gripe with the album is that the tail end just slightly tips over into the end of being too abstract. Pretty much from EMS onwards, it opens up in scale and has the potential to lose the listener. The problem with adjusting scope halfway through a project is that is begins to lose focus, and the last third of Under The Sun doesn’t quite manage to achieve the graceful change seen in other, more complete albums.
But, I admire Pritchard for trying his hand at an album that changes, because it would have been so easy to simply produce 50-something minutes of collaboration after collaboration, an album without much substance or meaning. That, it is not.
Image: Mark Pritchard