In an interview with FACT Magazine last year, electronic producer Keith Rankin (better known by the moniker Giant Claw) commented on the instantaneous nature of the Internet as it affects music consumption, stating, “these flashes of data, sparking up and dying is how music and culture are being experienced now. Maybe that’s how we’ll start experiencing things... They can repeat at different times, but almost no movements are sustained beyond a year or two." The operative word here is “maybe.” In his most recent release, Deep Thoughts, Rankin does not presume to cite his “prophetic lens” or some immutable belief for what the future holds; instead, he reflects on societal trends to develop an intuition-based theory employing “flashes” and “sparks” as its principal language.
Fittingly, Deep Thoughts is fraught with superimposed sonic bits and samples that range from synthetic video game elation to flute melody. This brand of hyper-realistic or futuristic electronica certainly isn’t a novel concept. Holly Herndon, Arca, and Jlin have all won plaudits for their respective works. Yet what separates Deep Thoughts from the host of albums with seemingly similar MOs is its fey equivocality. Rather than submerge itself in the inevitable, eclipsing darkness of ultra modernism, Deep Thoughts plumbs the idea of moving forward with a deliberate cognizance, unsure whether temporal passing and technological progress merit exaltation or despair.
The album has a definitively low-budget feel to it, built off sharp, repetitive bursts of simple electric/choral keyboard progressions, formulaic instrumental/House sounds, and Internet-inspired artificial noise. However, rather than restricting Deep Thoughts’ potential, this type of composition elevates it. It is by realizing the record's man-made derivation, the way Rankin employs the use of these seemingly menial tools to create a diverse landscape or panorama, that the audience can relish in the methodical overlaying of sound. By systematically constructing each track with the constituent elements readily accessible, Rankin rivets the listeners’ attention, holding them in against the slow drift into semi-consciousness or (worse still) soporific contentment. Instead, he plays the different components off one another with architectural elegance.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the initial track “Deep Thoughts 001.” Here, sharp staccato notes are the foundation for interchanging electric piano and xylophone refrains. Yet, again, it is difficult to characterize the tone in any way other than to call it ambiguous. The instrumental portions can be likened to automated expressions of joy (such as those played at the completion of the next Pokémon level), but segments of chord distortion and ostensible incongruence also occur in parallel.
The sometimes abrupt transitions between these different fragments leave a blank negative space, pivotal in its role as a “refresher.” As Rankin stated in the aforementioned interview, the present generation is marinating in an Internet Age — complete with truncated speech and emoji-communication — whose effects will be extensive and indelible. Yet Deep Thoughts is not a lurid, hence cautionary portrayal of what the future might hold, but rather a careful estimation of how we could come to derive pleasure from it. The full stops separate Rankin’s “little sparks” into distinct bundles, fractured pieces of alternately uplifting and sinister energy that are absorbed quickly and efficiently by those desiring interminable sensory excitement.
Yet for all its insight into the ultramodern age, Deep Thoughts’ foundational influences stem primarily from past (and quite mundane) sources. Both the computerized expressions of joy and tension/fear have origins in 70s arcade games. It was through this medium that emotion was quantified electronically and distributed to the general public. In an instant, programmed blip patterns prescribed and heightened our sentiments of excitement or despair, providing markers of suitable responses in simulated circumstances.
Rankin incorporates these sounds into the heart of Deep Thoughts with a characteristic ease, aligning his observations on the constantly self-propelling tech era with the efficiency of mechanized sensation (video game reaction). There are no complications in this “bare bones” form of expression; its blatancy transcends interpretation or personal deliberation. Rankin does not assert that this quality of his album is either evolution or deterioration. Rather, Deep Thoughts is comfortable with primarily reflecting on the changes around it, with a subtle proposition of the radical: that listeners might even find comfort in the future's new aesthetic.
Deep Thoughts, Dark Web, and other releases from Keith Rankin, can be found at Giant Claw's Bandcamp.