9.25.2014

Two more Words on Sounds podcasts are available

I still need to get into the habit of integrating the podcasts with the review blog--there are a total of four Words on Sounds podcasts now available. You can simply go here to check out all of them, or click "play" on the players below to hear the newest two that I forgot to post about here:







Giant Claw - DARK WEB


I imagine that the modern-day Oracle of Oscillation, Giant Claw's Keith Rankin, is somewhat relieved that his new record "DARK WEB" is finally shipping, for the simple reason that I'll quit pestering him about it. While I've been down with the 'Claw for a long time, I was ultra excited by the first taste of his new direction in the track "005" that was featured as part of the Sunup Recordings "Living Room Visions" compilation back in January. What a crazy piece: tiny pop vocal samples parsed small enough to obliterate most textual content, reassembled into powerful new melodies and banks of angelic harmonies, lurching forward in weird stuttering rhythms and bursts of hyperspeed orchestral-MIDI passages. The melodic sensibilities of Giant Claw were recognizable, but everything else pointed toward a very new soundworld.

I'm always receptive to letting new music affect me deeply, but that short piece rattled around in my head more than any other four minute audio experience in recent memory. And a whole record of similarly-composed material was supposed to be coming soon...

Dear readers, that time has arrived. Simply put, DARK WEB is a game-changer, and I don't resort to cliches lightly. Densely layered with musical ideas, combining disparate genres and their philosophical underpinnings in wild new ways, this record has torn a new hole in my musical universe, and I suspect it will (deservedly) reside at the top of many best-of-the-year lists.

I don't think I've ever heard a record that manages to sound so acutely cutting-edge and for-the-ages simultaneously. Its contemporary influences, drawing from vaporwave-ish sample choices, weird Japanese takes on footwork and juke idioms, and perfectly-placed bursts of black-MIDI density, are integrated perfectly with rigorous approaches from the classical "new music" tradition, including the nimble polyphonic canons of Conlon Nancarrow, the high-velocity minimalist "micro-ritmia" of Ernesto Martinez,  and the "hyperrealism" microsample compositions of Noah Creshevsky or Zappa's "Civilization Phaze III." Even taken individually, these are some heavy styles to work with, much less assimilate into a concentrated new whole, yet DARK WEB remains incredibly tuneful and approachable. The pop/R&B roots of the many vocal samples gathered here still shine through, albeit in a new parallel universe, and the stunning craftsmanship behind putting this music together doesn't overshadow the fact that these jams are funky as hell.

While each of its 8 pieces definitely stand on their own, DARK WEB feels like one larger piece to me, which is reinforced by the simple numbered titles of each track from from 001 to 008. The album starts casually, with simple kick drum rhythms and speed-tweaked vocal samples giving way to a very catchy synth melody. "001" feels like an overture in the classical sense, a dreamy prelude to a seriously wild ride. Then "002" wastes little time reprogramming musical synapses: short pop vocal samples are redeployed as rhythms, and black MIDI/Nancarrow-ish passages race through the sound stage to reveal vaporwave textures and helium-infused raps.

I could rave about every moment of this album, but "005" is my favorite fragment of DARK WEB (note: this is a different "005" than the track from January's "Living Room Visions" comp referenced above--that piece has been expanded and re-titled as "006" on the final album). Vocal samples are hocketed around, forming gorgeous melodies and harmonies that remind me of the Dirty Projectors early "Getty Address" glitch opera, wild MIDI harpsichord lines swarm in and out at perfect moments, and great processed synths support the rich framework of vocal samples. The stunning main melody evolves through such fascinating motivic development that I can hardly sit still, altered and recast in MIDI clarinet/horn fragments that feel strangely even more beautiful with their "fake" general MIDI timbres.

In fact, the whole notion of "fake" is called into question from multiple angles with DARK WEB. The conceptual repurposing motivations of vaporwave, altering the focus of disposable forms of music from utility to contemplation, are heavily at play here. So too is Creshevsky's application of the "hyperrealism" concept to music, a similar method of repurposing tiny fragments of found sound, but toward the creation of complex aural spaces with a heart in electroacoustic practices and a note density that evokes impossible virtuosity and the complex timbral nuances of spectralism. And those MIDI sounds introduce their own commentary on high/low-culture distinctions, highlighting the kinship between the intimidating density of Nancarrow's player piano pieces and the crazy black-MIDI YouTube videos of the last few years. It's great to hear a project that so thoroughly embodies multiple perspectives on "reality" in music, too--the music itself is positively delightful, so rather than intellectualizing the complex relationships between all of this stuff, you can simply let the record spin. It all feels incredibly obvious, inevitable, even, when you simply listen. Rankin's album art for DARK WEB bridges these worlds beautifully, too, hanging nicely with the elements one often sees on vaporwave releases but with a nod to "proper" classical new-music visuals.

It's interesting to hear Rankin take a project like Giant Claw, which was previously reliant on "old school" analog instruments that use pre-MIDI CV control technology for synchronization, into such a digital, essentially "post-MIDI" universe. It raises another layer of those "what is real" questions, when one considers that synths were sometimes met with fake-music criticisms in their early years, and now we're in an era of analog vs digital debates in which the older oscillator-based instruments are sometimes regarded as more "real" than their transistor and computer emulation-based counterparts. I seem to recall that the early Synclavier-powered musical excursions of Art of Noise were met with similar digi-reticence, too, and lord knows how much music has been influenced by their approaches (even DARK WEB in its way). Obviously, the music is what matters in the end, and I'm simply amazed to hear how quickly Rankin has mastered the deep potential for computer-based composition. These pieces probably couldn't exist without latest-greatest technology, but they couldn't even be conceived without such a thoughtful musician at the controls, either.

But my only criticism of DARK WEB is using Giant Claw as the band name itself. While I love the whole GC discography, all of the albums up to this one hang together quite closely, and this is a dramatic departure. If it were up to me, I would've picked a new band name for this album. I even have a suggestion: Body by Keith. How about it, dear readers? I'm totally inept at photo editing, but legendary Omaha musician and Vinyl Community guru Dereck Higgins helped me out with this little mockup of the idea:

At any rate, DARK WEB has warmed my heart and massaged my brain profoundly, and I'd highly recommend getting this music in your own ears at your earliest convenience. This LP has just been co-released by Rankin's own Orange Milk Records and the great Noumenal Loom in Alabama. You can also find it on the Giant Claw Bandcamp. And this seems like an appropriate place to remind folks of the fantastic "Crane Engine" cassette release featuring some of Rankin's early work that dropped this summer on Germany's amazing Knertz label (you can read my review of that album here). Between that and DARK WEB, this is a mighty year for Giant Claw-related music.