I hope there are multiple timelines even if the one we’re currently trapped in is bleak and brutal. Somebody somewhere is living a better life where the world isn’t on fire and the people who are supposed to protect us aren’t actively trying to kill us. There’s no utopia anywhere, in any dimension, but there’s at least something better than this. Mirror Guide, Keith Rankin’s latest as Giant Claw, is a prism through which we get glimpses of that rainbow-colored world on the other side. Through its surprising emotional depth and exquisitely detailed composition and production, Mirror Guide is a magnificent beacon.
Using a surprising array of orchestral instrument samples, Mirror Guide sounds like an alien concerto composed and played by higher beings unbothered by the limitations of two arms or a single mind. Tonal combinations that seem impossible and passages played with lightning-quick dexterity are all refined through gentle, pastel filters. After breathless vocals from NTsKi, flickering between feeling lost and inspired during the opening minute of “Disworld,” a cello gets plucked into spiraling patterns and hopeful chord combinations that overwhelm to the point of tears. Rankin taps into something that’s so sanguinely beautiful that it collapses beneath its weight. Electronic detritus clatters in from the darkness, creating total sonic chaos, only to be pushed back into the bottle one last time. “Disworld” is utterly stunning.
Throughout Mirror Guide, these moments of fear and mayhem try to poke holes in this Elysian paradise without success. An opening piano flourish on “Until Mirror” is straight out of Breath of the Wild, dropping you into a lush, wondrous world of expansive splendor. Tamar Kamin’s aquatic voice skirts beneath the shapeshifting aural waves before forming a celestial choir to beckon the disparate song fragments back home in the sky. Soft drones rise like dandelion seeds floating weightlessly, a content epilogue to the hard-fought battles and endless nights to find some form of redemption. Mirror Guide promises a way forward that leads to a reclamation of the sacred and as “Until Mirror” draws to a dramatic conclusion, it finally feels safe to stop holding your breath; safe to let go.
The more I listen to Mirror Guide, the harder it hits me and the harder it becomes to articulate why it’s such an affecting record. Keith Rankin has always created immaculate sound worlds where the impossible was real and the real was actually a holographic interpretation from some distant reality, but there was always a space to get lost in. While that’s still true with Mirror Guide, it cuts a deeper incision by infusing an emotional arc that sits at the intersection of what it is to be human and what it means to reject that and strive for something different.
In this timeline, we may have already veered too far from what’s possible, but Rankin shows what our reflection could have been. When the lines are blurred between a flute and Diana Gruber’s magical voice on closer “Thousand Whys,” the solution through the maze reveals itself. Take a different turn here, go another direction there and we end up in another universe where the final boss was defeated and we can finally ascend.