(Orange Milk, 2015)
Deep Thoughts, eh? More like Dope Thoughts, am I right everybody? Hot off the ass-ripping highs of 2014’s Dark Web, synth weirdo/composer and visual artist Keith Rankin is at it again, this time with another symphony of mind-bogglingly outstanding head-trippery disguised as, pshaw, vaporwave. Like we haven’t heard that qualifier beaten to death yet. (Actually, it’s a pretty good catch-all. I’m sort of a vaporwave junkie these days, thoroughly enamored with the various nebulous concepts processed through it.)
Speaking of nebulous concepts, Deep Thoughts is full of them, each track (named “Deep Thoughts 01” through “Deep Thoughts 10”) overflowing with the possibilities and needing only the conscious mind to unlock them. Much like former Saturday Night Live guru Jack Handey, Rankin cloaks his music in circular logic from which there’s no escape, defying listeners to tease out a “true meaning” to the endeavor. The best part is that it’s impossible to do that. There’s no true meaning, to this or anything! It’s all a plastic shell, and we meat sacks are simply waiting for the end to come, when robots will run everything. Look, the future’s almost even here!
But I don’t necessarily want to bog down the narrative of Deep Thoughts with “humans are on the outs, pristine 1990s retrofuturism is on the ins,” because this album is just brimming with so much life that it’s impossible to think that anything but a human mind and a human hand is behind this album. Giant Claw’s music recalls James Ferraro’s best work in places, mainly the digi-graveyard opuses of Far Side Virtual (just an amazing record), but doesn’t distract the listener with “spot the sound of the source material” games. There’s a wild virtuosity to Giant Claw’s work, and although the MIDI action will never take entirely away from the fact that the music is indeed made with electronic components, it’s still exciting and vital.
The manic intensity inherent in these tracks is leavened with easy-to-swallow audio. “Deep Thoughts 01” is a prime example, as Rankin moves around scales at breakneck pace, but with a synth preset to “human voice” pretty much the entire time. As weird and potentially annoying as that sounds, it absolutely won me over, and by the end of the track I didn’t even notice it. “Deep Thoughts 02” bounds similiarly, but it relies heavily on string sounds, adding a sense elquoence perhaps missing from “Deep Thoughts 01.” The Far Side Virtual comparisons really stick out on “Deep Thoughts 03,” as the tones have a much more semi-familiar hue to them (and there’s even a moment or two when Yello’s “Oh Yeah” – I mean, er, “Day Bow Bow” – pokes through).
As the album progresses, the VR tries to break through and assume some sort of pressing responsibility for our actions as listeners. Maybe it’s trying to warn us of some sort of Matrix-type danger – as in, we’re plugged in, but unaware of our true surroundings. “Deep Thoughts 05” hits some of those notes, but it passes by “Deep Thoughts 06” and is replaced by a more existential dread. No dread by the time the one-two punch of “Deep Thoughts 08” and “Deep Thoughts 09” blasts you from whatever reverie you might find yourself in. Have I written a variation of “virtuosic” yet in this review? I have? Well I’m going to do it again, because these two tracks are simply off the charts – I don’t know if Rankin is programming or playing at this point, but whatever he’s doing, it’s pretty excellent. Even the relatively subdued “Deep Thoughts 10” could give Bach himself a run for his money, although if Bach had ever got his ass off the harpsichord bench and worked as hard on his presets as he did his scales and arpeggios, then maybe the discussion would be a little bit different today.
There’s so much to like about Deep Thoughts that it would be easy to just talk about it for a while, so I’ll keep an eye out for anyone outside of the virtual world who digs it and bring the conversation there rather than bore you with it any further here. The main takeaway is this: don’t pretend that vaporwave, or post-Internet, or plunderphonics, or whatever is some highly polished genre that doesn’t live a little here and there. I offer Giant Claw as Exhibit A of human life embodying music that may not always sound like it was made by humans. I mean, could a robot come up with something like this?: “If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.” Dope thought, Jack Handey. Dope thought indeed.
RIYL: James Ferraro, NMesh, 情報デスクVIRTUAL