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Golden Retriever - Occupied With the Unspoken

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Artist: Golden Retriever

Album: Occupied With the Unspoken

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jul. 30, 2012

I’d never heard of Golden Retriever before I read Adrian Dziewanski’s review of Light Cones last September. Fast forward only a few months, and the album was solidly entrenched at the top of my year-end list. In the middle of an extended renaissance for analog synthesizers, Golden Retriever stands out, and not just because of the timbral novelty introduced by Jonathan Sielaff’s bass clarinet. There’s a lyricism to the duo’s compositions, a particular slant of songcraft that plays a large, if sometimes stealthy, role in Golden Retriever’s work. Light Cones stuck with me after a single listen, and Occupied With the Unspoken didn’t take much longer. In many ways, it’s simply more of the same, but in this case, that’s a good thing.

At its most active, Golden Retriever’s music can sound random, even chaotic. Matt Carlson’s synthesizer sometimes sounds like it’s doing about eight things at once, and there’s plenty of what could be construed as haphazard noodling, until the emerging patterns and progressions make themselves clear. Even when it’s cosmically chilled out and ambient, though, Occupied With the Unspoken is a product of a carefully constructed complexity. I’m not one to demand a payoff from my experimental music, but I love the moments when divergent paths meet in unexpected places, or when seemingly simple alterations spawn much larger metamorphoses just a few seconds down the line. It’s when the intention in the music becomes clear that Occupied With the Unspoken is at its most satisfying.

The opening track on the album, "Serene Velocity," is the album’s best, and my only real complaint about Occupied with the Unspoken is that the latter three quarters of the disc don’t quite keep up. Sielaff and Carlson do mellow well, but their music tends to grow more compelling as its predictability decreases. "Serene Velocity" finds Sieloff emitting distorted tones in baleful arcs and sharply aimed volleys over a constantly shifting trusswork of synthesizer that threatens to tie itself in knots. Carlson sends out squeals and sputters that practically give off sparks as they move wildly like errant fireworks, massaging the mix to create a queasy canvas of patchwork psychedelia. There’s a moment seven minutes in when a slowly climbing series of bass tones emerge, giving the music a new gravity and my arm some goosebumps.

Golden Retriever’s most cinematic sequences don’t come easy. Sielaff and Carlson are adept at wrangling interesting sounds from their instruments, and even more skilled in arranging these sounds to create complicated and coherent music. Some of their simplest techniques are their most effective, but they rely on the context of the larger whole for much of their potency. Occupied With the Unspoken can be challenging and obtuse. It can also unrepentently beautiful. And, at its best, it’s both.

By Adam Strohm

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