Portland, Ore.’s Golden Retriever are deeply concerned with process. “Seer,” the duos latest full length out on the Thrill Jockey imprint, explores texture and mood more than coming to any conclusions. It is a tonal bath with a cinematic quality. Although recorded over a two-year period, the five explorations of “Seer” feel incredibly linked, perhaps intentional or a benefit of over-recording and cherry picking ideas that lend themselves well together. Certain bass clarinet phrases reappear from track to track giving the album a fluid feeling, a liquid narrative, repeating phrases over different tones and moods to evoke familiarity yet a new perspective. “Seer” is a drone poem, a morphing expressionistic burst.
The album begins with “Petrichor,” very much an epic introductory track with brittle and dreamily uniform modular synth arpeggios that are blasted away by processed bass clarinet. Jonathan Sielaff’s clarinet playing is versatile and expansive, at times blown with an Albert Ayler or Lounge Lizards humanity and at other points completely abandoning the instrument’s acoustic qualities in favor of a highly processed electrical sound more akin to the works of Robert Ashley or Rafael Toral. The sprinkled ivory sound of Matt Carlson’s modular synth takes you from “Petrichor” to the second track “Sharp Stones,” which feels like a psychedelic lounge, a waiting room before a new dimension.
Arpeggiated beats feel like holes in a raft, very much like glistening stones that transfer the listener from the waiting room to the natural landscape sounds of the third track, “Archipelago.” Starting gently with woodwinds, bells and island sounds, “Archipelago” sways with a phaser that leads into modular pins and bleeps that provide the only rhythmic backbone. There is so much space on “Seer,” the mod and the clarinet dance romantically with one another, unafraid of silence or letting the other lead. The synth hits soon become more liquid as the sounds of woodwinds and nature cry and become more brooding in comparison. As the cries fade, “Archipelago” becomes more mechanical with synth beats like insects squirming, while the clarinet revisits the theme from “Petrichor” within a new headspace.
“Flight Song” continues with an inverted refrain from the bass clarinet yet again but this time more euphoric, delicate and unimposing while the modular synth plays happier bits that evoke the sounds of chip tunes more than brooding. The album closes with “Superposition,” a nearly 13 minute long journey that begins softly with praying clarinet before the glitches come in, with rolls and triplets, the robot waking from digital sleep. The clarinet fades in the mix, falling into an amorphous loop until a harmonized brass section begins at 2:45. Around the 8th minute, the synths tinker with a “Blinded by the Light”-conjuring eighth notes. A gentle guiding hi-hat begins at the 9th minute, which doesn’t help not reminding one of the aforementioned baby boomer classic but Golden Retriever couldn’t be further from Manfred Mann.
There are no fedoras, no disco beats, no clapping audience, nothing to hold on to. “Seer” is dreams remembered not so much for their content as much as their colors and the kitchen-sink emotion felt upon waking. The clarinet squeaks in pain, a pleading whale song or a beautifully sobbing earth. “Seer” is a set of amygdala photographs exposed at different intervals.