[EXPERIMENTAL DUO] The announcement of a new album by Golden Retriever was big news within the experimental music community, where the modular synth and bass clarinet duo is one of Portland’s most respected outfits. But word of the LP is starting to spread to places the band never imagined. In early July, the popular tech-geek blog Boing Boing posted a mention of Occupied With the Unspoken along with the animated video for the track “Serene Velocity”; shortly thereafter, the blog for the cooking magazine Bon Appetit did the same.
Granted, the buzz tended to focus on the fact that bass clarinetist Jonathan Sielaff manages the four Stumptown cafes in town, and that the band was including a free bag of Costa Rica Montes de Oro beans with each preorder of the new LP. But the higher profile still felt unusual for a band that plays stringy, stretched-out instrumentals that sound like transmissions from deep space.
It helps that Occupied—which dropped July 24—is the duo’s first release on Thrill Jockey Records, one of the biggest indie labels in the U.S. and home to acts like the Fiery Furnaces and Tortoise.
“This is the first time we’ve actually had a real publicist for any of our records,” says Matt Carlson, the band’s synth player, between sips of a smoothie at Canteen on Southeast Stark Street. Usually, the pair self-releases its music on CD-R or cassette, or through lesser-known imprints like Root Strata.
But it is a testament to how the band has evolved its approach to recording since Carlson and Sielaff started playing together nearly eight years ago. Early releases were “just documents of us playing together and trying out these compositions,” Carlson says. “But I’ve gotten more involved in the manipulating of the recordings to get them perfect to my ears.”
As free-form as their work sounds, the two use their training in classical and jazz musics to provide a compositional basis for the songs. The tracks can still stretch on for 30 minutes at a time, as the band leaves itself ample space to improvise, but there is a foundation being worked from. Carlson labors over the recordings, making intricate edits to piece together a finished version.
Not that you could find the seams in any of the four lengthy tracks on Occupied. The songs melt slowly by, with Carlson providing a squelching backdrop for Sielaff—sending his clarinet through a variety of effects pedals—to vamp over. It can be calm, as on the album’s windswept closing track, “Winter Light,” or it can provide a prickly chill to your system (check out the creepy “Eudaimonia”).
What never shifts, too, is the sense that Sielaff and Carlson have a deep creative bond that has become almost a hive-mind in the near-decade they’ve been working together. Both men readily agree with that idea.
“There has never been
a time where we felt like we weren’t making a connection,” Sielaff
says. “It just clicked and it worked so easily. You almost feel
guilty—like, maybe this is too easy. But it allows us to struggle with
the things that really matter, like how we expand on what we’re doing
rather than battling with each other.”
SEE IT: Golden Retriever plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., on Wednesday, Aug. 1, with Regular Music, Ilyas Ahmed and Pulse Emitter. 8:30 pm. $5. 21+.