Review: Golden Retriever & Chuck Johnson — ‘Rain Shadow’

Portland’s Golden Retriever (Jonathan Sielaff and Matt Carlson) have united with exploratory pedal steel guitarist Chuck Johnson for Rain Shadow, their follow up to 2017’s densely gorgeous Rotations. Instantly spellbinding and enchanting, “Empty Quarter” climbs and scatters like a mountain hike above ancient watersheds. Sielaff’s bass clarinet absorbs and reflects like a spring fed stream as Carlson’s minerals of synthesized beauty run as far as the eye can perceive. Johnson’s droning tape loop bathes fluidity as his pedal effects coalesce above the duo’s submersible eddys. Around the tenth minute, “Empty Quarter” scrapes a mountain range, signalling dissolve as sound trickles exit, evoking the album’s namesake. Beginning in the windswept high desert, “Lupine” howls broad strokes of tender twang glazed in Sielaff’s bittersweet woodwinds, Carlson’s crystalline synthesis, and Johnson’s opaque cycles. “Lupine” suggests the complexity of the flower’s ever-reaching, colorful spikes and a wolf’s yearning bay. Side A ends providing a breathtaking view of swirled sky and dotted fauna.

Side B operates in similar fashion; Johnson’s meditative loops provide the platform for the duo to bounce off, or better yet, in. “Sage Thrasher” meanders a clearer cut of digitatized passes of whine and whimper from the trio. Eventually eroding into a vast ocean of waves and torrent, “Sage Thrasher” is a cosmically binding example of the musical sweep each musician yields. What’s even more astounding, each recorded their contributions in isolation. Despite the locked-in togetherness each longform piece possesses, Rain Shadow is the product of collaboration in isolation, something we all, currently, need more assurances of. Because despite the separation, Rain Shadow maneuvers like a full-fledged ecosystem where everything belongs.

Album ender, “Creosote Ring” bows and burns adjacent to “Sage Thrasher”, with a stark echo into a micro climate of ancient life brightened by Carlson’s adept processing sheen, thus linking seamlessly into Sielaff’s emotive, monochromatic blasts.

Rain Shadow (digitally available now/LP arriving later in June) carves into the psyche and natural world while maintaining a veil of mystery. Absorbing the zen elegance to the cover art provides parables to the treatment Golden Retriever and Chuck Johnson give, chiseling and arranging massive boulders into an organic art form few could balance.

(Check out “Empty Quarter” from Rain Shadow below via Bandcamp)

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