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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Giant Claw reinvents the wheel on ‘Soft Channel’

Giant claw web
Susan Zhu
Susan Zhu

And there we have it: The record we’d needed Giant Claw to produce this whole time. In the wake of 2014’s mind-bending, body-bending “DARK WEB,” all bets were off as to what Orange Milk Records founder Keith Rankin would transmute for his follow-up record.

The denouement was predictably unpredictable. “Deep Thoughts” was excellent, yes — but mostly Rankin’s knack for high-brow instrumental arrangements carried the record. Conceptually, the classical-via-modern record has been an electronic trope since Wendy Carlos’ groundbreaking “Switched-On Bach,” reinvented by everyone from Oneohtrix Point Never to DJ Tiesto. So Giant Claw’s take was refreshing, but nothing to write home about in the end.

Frankly, I’d been hoping that Rankin’s latest would be a return-to-form record — to his maximalist vaporwave-cum-electro, that is. Still today, there’s nothing out there quite like “DARK WEB;” who better, then, to follow it up?

But “Soft Channel,” his latest release — which arrives soon after his third collaborative record as death’s dynamic shroud.wmv — is everything you’d never known you wanted from a Giant Claw record.

If you’ve ever wondered what an Arca vaporwave record would sound like, or Ramona Andra Xavier covers of Jim O’Rourke’s free improvisation suites, then wonder no longer. Giant Claw beats these musicians at their own game, marrying the unmarriable with more ambition than any of them could individually boast.

There are eight tracks on the record, each one basically a free-form, stream-of-consciousness deconstruction of everything from electro-house to classical music, through the language of avant-garde jazz and spelled out with synthesizers.

At any given moment, prepare for the aural space to explode. Halfway through “Soft Channel 005,” Rankin rushes a horde of disembodied sounds before the listener — castanets, water droplets and strings, to name a few; it’s like watching a marathon from the side and seeing each contestant speed by in a colorful blur. And that’s just before the track develops into something halfway between ’10s R&B pop and dubstep, with sax instead of bass.

It’s nothing like the comparatively accessible “DARK WEB,” yet there are moments that tangentially encounter the mainstream before zooming away into madness: the first — I don’t know — three seconds of “Soft Channel 004;” the string foundation of “Soft Channel 006;” the moment in “Soft Channel 007” where it almost sounds like those over-the-top THX movie previews, or later in the song when he fully samples a recent payola electro-pop hit, or later still, when he goes full 2014-to-2015 Oneohtrix Point Never and even surpasses the poor guy.

Some of these moments do remind me of what Giant Claw accomplished during his brief foray into fathomable — dare I say pop? — music. At worst, you might feel wistful. Rankin is the rare type of visionary who would make truly great pop music, if only he tried.

And while there’s hardly reason to complain about “Soft Channel,” the record does make more acutely perceptible the rift between these expectations and reality: Rankin’s latest release is polished, yes, but simultaneously among the most chaotic records of the year. To the untrained listener, it’s not just inaccessible but altogether alienating.

There’s a particular way of listening to the record, though, which applies both to “Soft Channel” and to other products of unchecked ambition: Don’t focus too hard. Let the sounds zoom through you, caught up in a whirlwind. Maybe you’ll feel confused at first. You certainly won’t understand it; I don’t understand it. But if you allow yourself to feel comfortable with the nonsensical, certainly the record will begin to make sense.


Artist: Giant Claw

Album: “Soft Channel”

Label: Orange Milk Records

Favorite Track: “Soft Channel 006,” “Soft Channel 007”

If you like: Nmesh, Arca, Jim O’Rourke

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5