Giant Claw, ‘Impossible Chew’

Posted by on July 26, 2013

Field Hymns, 7/1/2013

I’m sitting on the deck of our new apartment, smoking and checking out the view I’ll be growing accustomed to over the next twelve months. Directly in front of me is a well-meaning graveyard with a few ambiguous housing complexes and brick standalone storefronts with names like McLiney & Co. in small typeface on canvas awnings; the kind of businesses that only open their doors by appointment or may not have been open for forty years. I’m trying to drum up the nerve to start my job hunt and I’m doing it by listening to the new tape from Ohio’s synth-composer extraordinaire, Giant Claw. It’s called Impossible Chew and is released by Portland’s Field Hymns.

Impossible Chew starts out with a track called “Science Island” that fits perfectly into the relative calm I feel towards what’s coming next in my employment history. It’s an arpeggiated jam that could easily background the pleasant hometown introduction level of a video game. Your new innocent avatar runs around in almost perfect safety learning to bounce on bunnies in a sunny village. He goes to the town vendor and a video sequence takes over, interrupting your developing muscle memory so that a bubbly short guy with a beard and glasses can say, “Well, hey there, Phil! Have you been out bouncing on bunnies this morning?! Well you know, I’m running short on bunny turds today. If you find any, just come back to me and press X and I’ll give you some gold!” Bass synths run through the circles of fifths and modulate up to the start your engines scene with white noise shaker hi-hats kicking off your adventure through ten tracks of interestingly positive, somewhat funky synth bangers.

It’s not a stretch to visualize a 1980’s grey-suited John Cleese walking down the streets in London on his way to an interview while listening to Impossible Chew. It’s comforting to the extent that you know he will get the job and you will be laughing. Giant Claw’s synths don’t foreshadow murder or foul-play. From the start of the album, it’s hard to tell whether you will end up fighting monsters or just navigating mazes, whether Cleese will save the world or the zoo. Pardon the pun, but it’s a really good chew.

Further into the album are tracks like “Moonsick Pt 1,” danceable and beat oriented though they throw humorous curves of “Oh no! We’re under attack!” with big goofy diminished chords before settling back into calm walks around NPC’s. Frilly lead-lines pop up here and there to pick at your pantleg and ask that you pay attention, but you jump over them easily, they retreat, and your leisurely sight-seeing can continue. “White Rain” starts heavy like a “Don’t Bring Me Down” and throws dozens of short-lived ideas all over the heaviness, all of which could kick off in their own direction but manage not to, seamlessly weaving around one another. All of the tracks on Impossible Chew have this sense of overstimulation; a tiny kid in a playground that needs to be on the huge motherfucker of a slide and the billion MPH swing at the same time and runs around like crazy trying to get it all before [his] parents get annoyed and take [him] home (Editor’s Note: This anecdote, like this review, is probably semi-autobiographical, so we’ve supplied the appropriate male pronouns).

Impossible Chew is an odd kind of album where you know what to expect but you don’t expect it. The compositions contain all of the elements to dance to but the effect isn’t “let’s dance!” The synths are of a lower bitrate than something like, say, Gatekeeper, but it doesn’t have the same inexpensive wackyness to it that videogame music has. It’s not lo-fi in recording quality, nor is it narrative or path-oriented in idea. It’s ambient synth music without the woosh feel. It’s hard edged blips and bloops that slyly do what rounder sounds are supposed to, which is to create an interpretable world to live in while you’re listening. The dry squares and sines accomplish as much as heavily textured synthesizers by virtue of Giant Claw’s compositional ability, but unlike many modern composition-heavy artists it doesn’t have to be heady to get across a colorful aesthetic.

Giant Claw does aesthetic well. He makes wallpaper that Urban Outfitters could sell to college kids. Not the Phoenix crap that would actually be playing there but the posters in the gift section that you think you could paint but can’t. It’s a kind of background music that will lead the conversation in the room without focusing on itself. You could ignore it but it will instruct you. You will set out driving to a destination and find you have rerouted through the shopping center. You can try to trace influences in it and find yourself confused as to whether it’s a driving ELO track reduced to it’s synthetic root-system or more of an homage to cakewalk circa ’97 midi scrolls.

Tomorrow I will put Impossible Chew in my ears, shave off my beard, dress as appropriately as this summer will allow and take to the streets. I will walk towards the terrible fate of retail jobs in the Plaza and hope that Giant Claw takes me in a different direction, one where I will be entertained enough with the absurdity that I’m spending one day writing about this cutting edge music for Decoder and the next hoping I don’t end up at McDonalds, to knock on the door of an inconspicuous brick building and say “hire me” and that there a grizzly old guy will appear and say “I’m in need of some bunny turds. If you can bring me some, I’ll give you some gold.”