(Orange Milk, 2017)
Sometimes that critical ear that you’ve worked so hard to cultivate simply fails you in the presence of an experience so immersive that you can’t tell whether you’re listening to the music or you’ve entered some alternate dimension created by the music. That’s the position I find myself in listening to Giant Claw’s new Soft Channel, bowed by sensory overload, squinting against the grandeur of the sonic equivalent of blast furnace doors being opened and shut in my face, but at really glitchy intervals. So before I’m fully overwhelmed and disappear into some inescapable time loop where everything’s all Lynchy (and oh boy, I’ll try not to freak out over how much I love Twin Peaks: The Return and make every single comparison to it), let me back up a second and objectively take stock of my surroundings before plunging into the complete unknown.
Orange Milk co-founder Keith Rankin’s been at it for a while, and he, ahem, returns with Soft Channel, a MIDI masterpiece chock full of samples. His mind perceives his environment with uncanny perspective, casting everyday events as temporal abstractions, each dimension stretching, bending, exploding, rearranging, and snapping back to normalcy for a split second before doing it all again, ad infinitum, or at least until the album ends. But the trick Rankin’s perfected is, no matter how abstract the proceedings become, your ear and your mind will still be able to wrap themselves around the compositions. Disregard for a sec the seeming virtuosity of Soft Channel and focus on the melodies, just lightly buried beneath the whiplash rhythmic structure. Built from vocal and other samples, repurposed and processed for maximum effect, the melodies are unexpected, jarring at times, but become earworms the more they condition you to hear them. Snippets form connections to other snippets, and once those connections become apparent, others fall quickly into place.
Bridging the gap between “difficult” and “popular” art is a pretty tricky business, yet that’s the Giant Claw (and, one can argue, the Orange Milk) way. Rankin splatters source material all over his digital canvas and connects the points that inspire him, building harmonies out of the strangest sources and sustaining them for long periods. Always restless, Rankin doesn’t stop at voice modulations and synthesizer bursts, instead opting to fill in the spaces with string fragments and percussive explosions, starting and stopping on a dime when silence will do. The result defies categorization – it’s not electronic, it’s not organic, it’s not high art, it’s not pop. Perhaps when our future selves are finished evolving, this is what their classical music will sound like – it’s both alien and recognizable at once. It simulates the exact kind of emotional roller coaster that a young Asian girl would go through if her reflection showed a hooded green figure and a giant hovering head peered over her shoulder at all times. Are Greeny and Hoverhead of the album cover meant as manifestations of our past? Our future? Our selves? Or are they simply spirits that are with us, feeding off the ups and downs of our lives? Now that’s a Lynchy concept if I ever heard one. Tune in to Soft Channel if you have any questions along these lines, but don’t expect any answers – the feeling is all the answer you’ll need.