The latest from Giant Claw: Mutant Glamour and Music for Film
It's only been a year and a half since I reviewed Giant Claw's "Midnight Murder" cassette, but I'm not even sure exactly how many tapes and LPs this Keith Rankin solo project has officially issued since then: if you go by the chronology on the Giant Claw BandCamp page, there are six releases between Midnight Murder and "Mutant Glamour." Amazing!
But what's even more remarkable than Rankin's prolific nature is the persistent level of musical quality across the Giant Claw canon. All of these recordings work beautifully as self-contained suites, complete unto themselves, yet they all play nicely together as well, reaching for increasingly ambitious genre-smashing fun. And among a bunch of really great recordings, the "Mutant Glamour" LP is the best yet.
Like Pajjama, the music of Giant Claw stands out in the synths-on-cassette scene of the last few years: this music is fast, assertive, fun, and hyper-literate both musically and culturally. I love a good drone meltdown as much as the next fellow, but I can really vibe on the psychotic stylistic combinations in this music, all presented with equal parts precision and playfulness. Imagine if Yip-Yip and Wendy Carlos exchanged lycra unitards and music theory lessons: this music is purposeful even at its campiest moments.
Take opening track "Brain on Cream" for example: in under four minutes, this piece recalls workout videos, sci-fi soundtracks and haunted graveyard video games, even indulging in a showtune-esque bridge before the main theme returns at the halfway point, and it all dissolves into flurries of notes and saxophones in a long, frisky outro. Sometimes the music points toward more academic or "legit" cinematic music, evoking Peter Thomas through much of "Glitter Logic," or early computer music in the blippiest sections of "Body Science," while the addition of saxophones to almost half of the album has added a new element of Beefheart-ian whimsy in the perfect contrasting places. My favorite sax interjections on the album turn out to be tiny samples of sax players on YouTube (including Bill Clinton!) combined into the perfect reed-biting, trilling passages of obnoxiousness. Samples of mostly chromatic trumpet lines make an appearance later in "Man or Cream" as the perfect foil for some especially flatulent synth stabs.
This whole record flows together so well that "favorite track" designations don't matter much, but I really dig the album's closer, "Trapped in the Mirror." The longest track of the album, Rankin takes an epic "early electronic" approach, a touch slower than most of the album, gradually building the piece with wide electronic vibratos, layers of arrpeggios, and a driving motorik pulse. It's a rich, rewarding end to a great album.
Like previous Giant Claw releases, "Mutant Glamour" features beautiful artwork and album design by Rankin himself. I love the restraint of the black and white cover, which makes the pastel streaks of color on the back cover really stand out (not to mention the sweet center label)--but you should pick up the record and see for yourself.
As I was prepping my review of "Mutant Glamour," I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of "Music for Film" in the February/March cassette batch from Constellation Tatsu. A collection of music made for four film projects spanning 2009-2012, these short cues reveal new aspects of the Giant Claw concept.
Using a palette of sounds one would expect to hear from Giant Claw, Rankin's film work is less dense vertically, simpler and more direct. There's a bit of everything here compositionally: "Royal Decree" sounds like mid-period Residents, "Bouncing" is almost vaudeville, and the two "Piano Synthesizer Etudes" have a contemplative melodicism that pushes into Secret Chiefs 3 territory. Other pieces sound more like they're made to supplement sound effects, like the "50s outer space" vibes of the "Century of Shame" tracks, or the clanging metal and choral synth washes of "Fear of the Dark."
There are some really beautiful melodies here, like the theremin-esque melodies of "Tears," lightly supported with block piano chords. And I love the simple melody nested in the middle voices of "Piano Etude." Above all, "Music for Film" shows how the basic building blocks of Giant Claw--cool sounds, smart writing, and a sense of humor and cultural context--still function distinctively outside of the conceptual confines of albums, or any sort of chronology when you consider that the track sequence of this tape shifts freely through different times/film projects.
As Giant Claw albums seem to appear quickly, keep your ears open--word has it that the next one will be coming from my favorite cassette label of late, Field Hymns, very soon.