Giant Claw Deep Thoughts

[Orange Milk; 2015]

Styles: un-/hyper-reality, cyberspace, vaporwave, imaginary video game music
Others: Oneohtrix Point Never, James Ferraro, Macintosh Plus, Frisk Frugt

For at least one album now, musician, artist, label owner, and former writer Keith Rankin has toyed with the counterintuitive idea that the artificiality of digital technology has the power to liberate human nature. As Giant Claw, he’s been engineering virtual spaces that, in their anarchic profusion of decontextualized synths and soundbites, evoke nothing about the everyday environment they leave behind. From 2010’s three-part self-titled release to last year’s Dark Web, he’s created disorienting music almost completely detached from its surrounding world, music that represents not so much this world’s troubling contents as a vast, nonsensical void. As such, he’s enabled his listeners to feel and to think free from any reminder of the constraints they face on a day-to-day basis, enabling them, if only just a little, to be and to become according to their own innate impulses.

This would explain Deep Thoughts, an album that facilitates “deep thoughts” precisely because its virtual-reality music blocks out all recollection of anything that might return the listener to the shallow concerns of their workaday world. Like some kind of musical isolation tank, its scatty jams are so unclassifiable and unplaceable that they frustrate nearly every attempt to construct a meaningful narrative around them or situate them within a recognizable, earthy context. Yet it’s because of this deprivation that the mind listening to Rankin’s symphonies is compelled to turn in on itself, to reflect upon itself and establish a sui generis train of thought that develops without any external prodding or impingement.

That is, at least in theory, because even if such a surreally epiphanic opener as “Deep Thoughts 01” doesn’t particularly sound like anything you’ve ever heard on this planet, its synthetic removal of almost every point of reference dispossesses the listener of pretty much every point of departure for her thoughts. Just as consciousness is always consciousness of something, so too is thought always thought about something, meaning that the song gives its auditor nothing to cogitate other than the basic physicality of its hyperactive melodic volleys. In some ways, this facilitates “a return to our biological embodiment,” insofar as these zany, non-worldly runs leave us with only our brute physiological reactions to contemplate. Yet conversely, they prevent such contemplation from having any depth, since their failure to evoke anything of the world is also their failure to furnish the raw material of thought. Without this material, we can scarcely analogize, classify, induce, deduce, connect, abstract, or synthesize anything of the track’s neon-keyboard weirdness or its effect on us, and as a result, it ends up aiding thoughts that, rather than being “deep,” couldn’t be any shallower.

And if its flurry of disorienting, unrecognizable, digi-histrionic notes manufactures a lurid blankness in which the listener floats aimlessly and senselessly, then “Deep Thoughts 02,” “03,” “04,” and “n” do much the same. They all similarly abound in faintly cartoonish, faintly inane sequences of chords and beats that scurry through their scales and time signatures, only to disappear as quickly as they appeared, further underlining the sense of unreality and incomprehensibility. “Deep Thoughts 03” has an hallucinatory resemblance to calypso music from another galaxy, where steel drums are more akin to psychedelic synthesizers, while “Deep Thoughts 05” and its accelerations convey the drama of an 8-bit role-playing game. In both (and other) cases, the nearest touchstones are no less illusory than the empty realm Rankin himself conjures, and the absence of the R&B samples he used to great effect in Dark Web also compounds their unrelatability. Their airy volatility swarms from one micro-movement to the next, effacing its variegated forms more quickly than lived, human time can make sense of them, so that once again they stymie all-but those thoughts that are a superficial reflection of their flux.

It’s probable that Rankin is aware of this superficiality, and that the title of Deep Thoughts is therefore entirely ironic. If that’s the case, then it’s possible that such burbling, kaleidoscopic arias as “Deep Thoughts 08” are intended to invoke, however distantly, the vacuity that characterizes Rankin’s longstanding muse — cyberspace and the “postmodern” era.

In other words, such a figmental track becomes a comment on the vacuity of life on the web, of a life spent immersed in mere text, imagery, and pixels. Its tireless arpeggios flash by in bursts of phantasmal color, detached from all available likenesses and comparisons in much the same way that the archetypal denizen of the net is detached from the human life breathing around him. After a flamboyantly engorged introduction, a kind of trippy opening into the boundless arms of the internet, it hurtles into a torrent of cyber-synth flourishes, its inability to invest itself in any one particular riff becoming the perfect complement to the surfer’s inability to invest himself in his home, neighborhood, school, community, or nation.

Moreover, it’s the imaginary kookiness of its keys and beats, and of those of cuts like the dreamily Byzantine “Deep Thoughts 09,” that expresses the imaginary quality of existence on the World Wide Web, an existence that unfolds more on the psychological and mental plane than on any other. But, to be fair to Rankin, there isn’t much that’s imaginary about the mastery and intricacy that his compositional skills display on these fantastical escapades. They’re all tightly arranged, and they all teem with meticulously wrought changes, such that they urge engagement even where their unreal tones and textures urge disengagement.

Even so, they’re still not quite enough by themselves to completely neutralize the feeling of uncanny emptiness that pervades Deep Thoughts. This feeling, centered in a peculiarly emotionless palette of cheap electronics and bizarro synths, transforms the album into a victim of its own success. It allows Deep Thoughts to represent its themes of virtual hollowness and digital alienation, yet at the same time it prevents the album from having any substantial resonance, except insofar as it fails to resonate. Ultimately, this prevents the listener from forging or evolving any deep thoughts of her own while listening to the album and from fully returning to or fully experiencing her “natural embodiment.” Instead, Giant Claw leaves her trapped in its clutches, unable to think and unable to feel to any significant degree.

Links: Giant Claw - Orange Milk

Most Read