What’s that noise?
Thrill Jockey, 2012
7.1 / 10.0
There’s always a small, devoted fanbase for lovers of abstract and “difficult” music, and that cult has grown in the last few years. Drone, noise, ambient, and other similar, poorly named genres have seen their scope and influence rise tremendously throughout the music community thanks mostly to the internet. Adventurous music fans have the ability to try out different sounds and aural experiences like never before. There is little to no risk of putting down hard earned cash for something listeners may not like when they can listen to it on Youtube, or a cloud service.
Music that is at least as much an intellectual endeavor as it is entertainment requires another level of concentration and study. Bands like Calgary’s late, great Women injected extended moments of plodding, hazy noise into their art punk and pop structures. Brooklyn’s Oneohtix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin) extrudes computer laden blips, bleeps, and blorps into otherworldly electro soundscapes all while leaving the listener guessing as he appears to be heading in a more formal, structured direction. Portland’s Liz Harris, under the band name Grouper, made a double album of extended, spacey guitar noise in 2011 that left listeners reeling through a miasma of cloudy, but eerie, connected stratospheric symphonies.
Add to this list, Golden Retriever, the duo of Jonathan Sielaff and Matt Carlson, also of Portland. Both Sielaff and Carlson crossed paths several times in the early ‘oughts, playing in different experimental pop bands, Parenthetical Girls and AU. Parenthetical Girls, Sielaff’s outfit, specialized in a kind of bizarro chamber pop not completely outside the Animal Collective wheelhouse. AU, which for a time featured Sielaff on guitar, and who, well, also kind of sound like Animal Collective, are still a going concern, having released Both Lights earlier this year. However, neither of those bands quite prepared me for Golden Retriever, a mind altering concoction of electronic analog synthesizer effluvia, guitar drone, and *ahem* bass clarinet, on the band’s debut for Thrill Jockey, Occupied with the Unspoken.
Occupied with the Unspoken is four tracks, each being self contained set pieces at nine minutes long, and almost completely free of vocals. Opener, “Serene Velocity” is, as its name implies, a slow builder that starts with a syncopated synth drone, and unravels, then fixes its trajectory, ending in a high pitched pulse. “Canopy” the following song, is an inebreating mix of space/time telemetry that frequently threatens to go completely off the rails, but maintains its balance. “Eudaimonia” pulls back on any pretense at real song structure for the first several minutes with only differing wavelengths of computer squelch arguing with each other until settling into a vaporous, easy electrodance. The final cut on the album, is probably the most easily digestible, sounding like an unctuous, prolonged update of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack. It can be difficult to accurately critique music that is so far outside my usual scope. Unlike the bands mentioned above, Golden Retriever make few if any concessions to pop music as most people (myself included) recognize it. However, Occupied with the Unspoken will not fail at maintaining its listeners’ interest.