Mark Pritchard is one of the lowest-key guys in the electronic music realm. His social media presence is understated, and the interviews he gives tend to be restrained, albeit informative affairs. But behind the muted persona, he’s one of that realm’s visionaries. Working along and with others under a truckload of monikers—including Harmonic 313, Troubleman, Africa Hitech, Global Communication, and Jedi Knights (those last two with Tom Middleton)—and in a head-spinning variety of genres including but not limited to house, techno, footwork, hip-hop, dancehall, grime, footwork, trap, electro, and jungle, he’s got nothing to prove. That’s always a great position for an artist to be in, allowing them to do as they like without the burdens of expectations—and his latest release, The Four Worlds, has the confident feel of an artist who’s doing pretty much exactly what he wants to do.
The Four Worlds, serves, in part, as the soundtrack for a film and virtual reality installation that Pritchard has created with a collaborator, the L.A.–based visual artist/designer Jonathan Zawada; the pair also worked together for 2016's Under the Sun. Much like that release, The Four Worlds drips with ethereal emotion—sometimes melancholy, sometimes dreamy, and occasionally a bit disconcerting—but feels perhaps even more cinematic. There’s a hazy ambience to much of the succinct album (run time: 33 minutes) that imparts a drifting sensation; it’s the music you’d want to be hearing as you float your way through parts unknown.
A song like “S.O.S.” seems to epitomize the vibe that Pritchard is going for here. It’s a spoken-word wonder from Susan Dietrich Schneider, otherwise known as outsider synth/psyche artist the Space Lady. While she poignantly pontificates on the fragile travels of the planets through the nothingness, a quasi-pious organ meanders around a gentle, forlorn melody, serving to contrast the intimacy of our existence against the enormity of time and space. It almost plays like a goof—especially with those Sputnik bleeps at its conclusion—but it’s somehow immensely affecting.
There’s little in the way of abruptness on The Four Worlds, with Pritchard largely opting for supple eliding tones. Parkstone Melody II evokes a graceful, ghostly sense of wistful sorrow, while “Mên-an-Tol” drapes what sounds like a chorus of a thousand seraphs over a sumptuous series of misty rolling chords; at only a minute and a half long, it’s far too short, but still manages to evoke an aura of supernatural grandeur. On the title track, a series of dissonant tones hang in the ether, increasing in intensity and becoming ever-more ominous. It’s simple in execution but devastating in effect, a mark of the skill that Pritchard has in conjuring a concentrated atmosphere through the thoughtful use of just a few elements.
There’s just one track on The Four Worlds that could be considered the least bit clubby. The purring synths of “Glasspops” delineate new-wavish melody lines, while a guiro scraping away in the background and a bassline throbs on the beat. It’s a solid cut, and certainly has the alien feel inherent to much of The Four Worlds, yet it somehow feels a bit out of place in a record otherwise defined by far-flung ambient vistas.
Speaking of vistas, the release’s most evocative track might just be “Come Let Us.” It’s built around a repeated quote from the Book of Genesis: “Come let us build ourselves a city/and a tower with its top in the heavens/and let us make a name for ourselves/lest we be scattered abroad/in the face of the whole world.” It’s a passage about the Tower of Babel, and the moment when man’s desire for self-glorification leads to tribalism, conflict, and pretty much everything else that’s screwing up our species. Appropriately, there’s a subdued, ominous vibe to the tune—the vocals, lifted from writer and audio artist Gregrory Whitehead’s “Ziggurat,” are attenuated and biting, the music a haunting drone.
It often happens, when listening to any music created with visuals in mind, you’re left with the feeling that you’re missing something, that there’s an element needed to complete the what you’re hearing. But that’s rarely the case The Four Worlds—these songs, as subtle and delicate as they are, are vivid and transporting. It’s a fully-formed album, whatever its intent, and full of quiet passion.
02. Circle Of Fear
03. Come Let Us feat. Gregory Whitehead
04. The Arched Window
05. S.O.S. feat. The Space Lady
06. Parkstone Melody II
08. The Four Worlds
The Four Worlds drops on March 23.