Album Reviews

Golden Retriever – Seer

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 24 March 2014

Golden Retriever - Seer Naming a record Seer ensures that it’s only ever going to be the second-best record with that name (Swans have the top spot covered by some margin), but it also gives listeners a clue as to what direction they’re going to be taken over the course of the record. It’s the first release from Golden Retriever since 2012’s epic Occupied With The Unspoken, where Matt Carlson (modular synthesiser) and Jonathan Sielaff (bass clarinet) composed four minimal yet constantly shifting polyphonic pieces on monophonic instruments.

Golden Retriever’s Seer aims for the same cosmos-straddling, star-melting vibe M Gira conjured on his Seer, as evidenced by the enormous sound evidenced over the course of the album. It was recorded live but ‘heavily edited’ in Carlson’s home studio, and that no doubt pays dividends as the album plays well and holds up to numerous listens. The tracks were significantly cut down – sadly – from half-hour pieces, but thankfully the structure of the original pieces remains intact.

Listeners that have little or no experience of their kind of mindwarp music will be instantly taken with or turned off by the piercing, oscillating sound of the synthesiser crashing through the speakers on opener Petrichor and thence throughout the album. The track grows calmer as it progresses, where the opening flurry of notes gradually fade into a much more sedate coda, with occasional tinkles from Carlson, and long droning notes from Sielaff.

Second cut Sharp Stones is a far more minimal affair, where the sonic palette mostly involves glassy piano jangles and warped, processed synth hums – before a white-noise haze descends over the track to make a heady, disorienting coda (helped in no small measure by chirping birds). Archipelago opens where Sharp Stones finished – the bird calls mingle with long, mournful clarinet moans. The track expands to an almost orchestral level of elegant noise, albeit an interplanetary orchestra.

The aptly-named Flight Song plays like a reprise of the opening track, where blissful new-agey keyboards ricochet around the channels. The sounds are harmonious, and have a kinetic energy about them – it constantly seems as though a journey is being taken, through space or time or both. Epic closer Superposition carries the same kind of blissful energy, growing as it does from a near silent opening to a dense finale, resplendent as it is with fluctuating, sharp synth squiggles. Over its 12-minute unfolding it becomes a titanic slice of euphoria that completely dazzles the listener.

All in all, Seer is an amazing addition to the impeccable Thrill Jockey canon, even if Alexander Tucker still sits atop his glittering throne at the apex of Thrill Jockey’s recorded output, unchallenged by great but not life-changing records like this. Tucker’s Dorwytch and Third Mouth – as well as Gira’s The Seer – feel complete, where this feels something like half of a perfect whole. If all the tracks were allowed the same time as Superposition, the impact of the record would have been dramatically increased.

Thrill Jockey are primarily releasing this album as a vinyl, because there’s some sonic trickery going on. It is said that the first track, when played at an unspecified loud volume through an unspecified speaker quality, could potentially produce something called ‘otoacoustic’ emissions. ‘Otoacoustic’ emissions – so the press blurb goes – cause the ear to be tricked by two opposing but perfectly toned frequencies. In hearing the opposing frequencies, the ear attempts to correct the noise your brain hears, and thus a new sound is born. The MP3 format cannot accurately convey this amount of detailed sonic and sensory data, so, as much as we would love to comment about the ground-breaking sound of the record on vinyl, unfortunately, we would be lying. Perhaps it would be worthwhile sending out vinyl press copies if the vinyl is carrying some special opposing-frequency magic that can be played far louder than it can on crappy computer speakers? Just a thought.

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Golden Retriever – Seer