Photo by Chris Casella

The Man-Machine

If there is a contention among those in the underground that rock is indeed dead, then said theory would dictate that the possibilities available for electronic artists—or anyone off-format—are currently infinite.

It was once hard to spot, but lately it seems stages around town are less littered with punk diatribes and cheap guitars and more with rigged laptops, suitcases full of pedals, and drum samplers. Whether it’s just a cycle or evolution, the sonics heralded in Columbus line-ups curated by Future Maudit or at the all-night raves hosted at Mint, a converted meat-packing warehouse on the outh side, bring to mind both the dystopian penance and overly fetishized pop consumerism that may plague the next generation. The goal is certainly to broadcast what the future “sounds”  like.

Photo by Chris Casella

Photo by Chris Casella

As a rocker at heart, it would be difficult for myself as a writer to stand by such statements. No amount of vaporwave, footwork, or harsh noise is going to replace the pop song. But that’s not to say that a composition by Giant Claw, the home-recorded solo project of Keith Rankin, hasn’t found the portal to an alternate universe where all of those Internet-age generated genres—and the essence of pop, or mutilated fragments of that essence—can coexist in a frantic-yet-danceable arena. Rankin’s most recent offering, Dark Web, is so far out of bounds that I first heard the album when it was being heavily lauded on an international message board.

It took weeks of devouring this mammoth record, oversaturated with chopped samples, melodic baubles, and glitch beats, before I traced Giant Claw to a Clintonvillle address. It was shocking that such a dense and heady statement, or better yet, a treatise on where do-it-yourself electronic music can travel in the vastness of the web, was being created by a guy sitting in his living room down the street. It revealed a new kind of musical dig, one of genuine discovery that comes from navigating through a world of hashtags, ominous SoundCloud accounts, and foreign-born Dropboxes.

“I had the idea of stacking layers of reality on top of each other, stacking genre, culture, sense of time and quality of sound, and having them work both independent of each other and as a cohesive whole.”

To unravel Dark Web is an equally experiential polyglot. Though the mettle of the songs are made by Rankin via synthesizers and drum machines, much of the album was of an “aleatoric” process—in layman’s terms, leaving some results to pure chance. Culling from a bevy of R&B and pop acapellas, Rankin picked samples at random and dissected them down to unrecognizable bits and patterns.

While there are gleanings of new-jack swing, slow jams, and ’80s hedonism, most of his sources are stretched to a point that he has trouble remembering what was used.

“I wanted to make a work that would be considered transmodernist, which is really to say a work that embraces many different fields of music and cultural theory at once,” says Rankin of Dark Web’s conception. “I had the idea of stacking layers of reality on top of each other, stacking genre, culture, sense of time and quality of sound, and having them work both independent of each other and as a cohesive whole.”

Again, it goes back to searching for those infinite possibilities and using innumerable channels of influence—be it Toni Braxton or John Cage—to escape what Rankin calls the “confines of composition.” In shifting from Dayton to Columbus, Rankin found the freedom of exploration and convenience in making music by himself instead of trying to coordinate the mechanics of a rock band (he used to play keyboards in the now-defunct Yakuza Heart Attack).

Being without limits has really opened up new avenues for Rankin, who just returned from an impromptu jaunt along the East Coast in response to Dark Web’s surprising Internet success. By day he’s been creating the soundtrack for a Moroccan children’s show, and in the spare time that’s left, he’s the curatorial chief of Orange Milk Records.

The label, which he shares with longtime friend Seth Graham, is primarily cassette based, with most of the surrealist, retro-futuristic graphic design handled by Rankin himself. Orange Milk has fielded a roster of unknowns from around the world. Highlights include the slacker-esque, elevator music of Brooklyn’s Jerry Paper and Norway’s Pajjama, which sounds like a battle between a John Carpenter film score and Japanese RPG.

Each new release is now more anticipated for its trippy, next-level, musicianship rather than their bright, ephemeral covers.

Falling through the rabbit-hole of Orange Milk’s discography is akin to Rankin’s mission to push boundaries. In addition to Dark Web, there’s a freshly minted EP based on reading the Reddit profiles of 22-year-old males, and another part of a trilogy that might entirely erase the beats from the equation. Where he goes after that is anyone’s guess. To me, it sounds like a time machine.

“I’ve really been focusing on using culture, past and present, as a compositional tool as opposed to melody and harmony,” says Rankin. “I like encoding music with all of this extra musical info. I’m not sure what to expect next.” 

To hear Dark Web, visit giantclaw.bandcamp.com.

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