Golden Retriever: Seer (Thrill Jockey)

Portland, OR duo deliver a glittering vinyl-only set of prog and post-rock

Released Apr 24th, 2014 via Thrill Jockey / By Norman Miller
Golden Retriever: Seer (Thrill Jockey) The roots of Oregon-based duo Golden Retriever go back a decade to the happy crossing of paths that brought modular synth player Matt Carlson and bass clarinetist Jonathan Sielaff into collaborative contact via their respective bands Parenthetical Girls and Au.

Swapping musical ideas and discovering much in common they teamed up in 2008 and began working out how to spin polyphonic magic out of their “boring one-note instruments”, while happily touching base with a diversity of genres - ambient, free modal jazz, modern classical minimalism - always leavened with a passion for melody.

Taking languid improvs then applying a lot of musical crafting produces tracks which have got eggheads referencing US experimental electronic composers like Alvin Curran, David Behrman and Maryanne Amacher. Less learned types (like me) imagine Harold Budd or Terry Riley getting together with early Tangerine Dream and the darker end of ECM jazz.

2011's duo of releases - Emergent and Light Cone – was followed by 2012's magnificent Occupied With The Unspoken, in which the band established a musical template of structurally complex 7-12 minute pieces that create musical textures spun through with melodic charm. The five tracks on Seer merely prove that if you're on the right track why change direction?

As ever, different genres are held together in brilliant interplay. 'Petrichor', for example, nods to Kraut-rock here, Indian raga there, its pretty patterns of skittish crystalline skirls offset by clarinet transformed into deep electronic fog-horns in a beguiling aural haze.

'Sharp Stone' unfurls rickety old piano tinkling hesitantly below coolly wailing clarinet, like a bittersweet melody sung by Bladerunner's beautiful androids. The reverential churchy organ and bells that kick off 'Archipelago' meld with electronic bird song chittering, building tempo into a fusion of Steve Reich minimalism and torch synth pop. Melody features most strongly in 'Flight Song', its shimmering synth arpeggios and sweet clarinet surges echoing '70s prog in an open-hearted way.

'Superposition' provides a fitting finale: 13 minutes of darker seriousness where contrasting strands hesitantly struggle for slow tempo dominance – jaggedly melancholic bassy synth, edgy glitches and blips, little light industry machine patterns – until, seven minutes in, the duo's desire for melodic synthesis kicks in as swooping clarinet over synth patterns suddenly gathered and focused like a lost masterpiece by Terry Riley.

If any of the above makes this sound 'difficult' don't be fooled. Golden Retriever are musical alchemists who have discovered the secret of combining complexity, texture and melody into musical gold.