Rain Shadow by Golden Retriever & Chuck JohnsonRelease date: May 15, 2020
Label: Thrill Jockey
Looking at the cover of Rain Shadow, the first joint effort by electronic experimentalists Golden Retriever (clarinetist Jonathan Sielaff and synthesist Matt Carlson) and fingerstyle/pedal steel guitarist Chuck Johnson, the first thought that comes to mind might be ‘set in stone’.
The moment first tones come out of your speakers (headphones, mobile, whatever), you realize that thought should say ‘nothing set in stone’. Nothing, if your idea is to stretch the boundaries of what can be labeled ambient/post-rock/drone/avant-garde music. Actually, you can add quite a few other genres that come to mind. Still, any musical experiment of that kind can (and often does) turn into a disparate ‘free-for-all’ that usually leads to nowhere and is not something you want to listen to, to be kind to all involved.
Luckily, Rain Shadow not only works but is truly cohesive a pure joy to listen to, possibly even for those that often shy away from any of the genres listed above. To those uninitiated to either Golden Retriever or Chuck Johnson (or both), on paper, it might look (and sound) like an improbable and non-functioning combination.
Fortunately for all involved, and particularly the listeners, it turns out sounding like a practically perfect combination. The key seems to be in the fact that all three players are trying to sense where each one of them is going with the sounds they are producing. They are not solely playing for themselves, or for each other, but try to come up with ethereal, coherent soundscapes that have both a head and tail and essentially sound meaningful and, well, pleasing at the same time. Oh, and still be genre-bending as well.
Very few joint efforts are able to come up with such excellent results as Golden Retriever and Chuck Johnson are able to do on Rain Shadow, proving that experimentation and music pleasing to the ear can go hand in hand.