Giant Claw is back to raise goosebumps with ‘Mirror Guide’

Following a years-long stint away from recording, Columbus musician Keith Rankin returns with a staggering new album

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Giant Claw

As a child, Keith Rankin, who records and performs under the name Giant Claw, heard a song on the radio. And while he can’t remember the specific track or artist, he can recall in great detail the sensation stirred within him by a simple chord change, a musical blip that somehow left a deep, lasting impact.

“I remember being absolutely struck, like by lightning, and just being like, ‘What the hell is that? What is this feeling?’” Rankin said recently via Zoom from his home in Columbus. “I didn’t even realize some external force could influence your internal landscape to that degree. It was a shock to the system, almost like your consciousness being flipped online suddenly.”

The entirety of Rankin’s life within music has been a constant chase to recreate that sensation, a trend that continues on the new Giant Claw album Mirror Guide (Orange Milk), out Friday, May 14, on which the electronic musician crafts a cinematic landscape awash in lush cello, swooning horns and breathy vocals. The record is Rankin’s first since 2017’s Soft Channel, and follows a stretch where he set aside music temporarily to pursue art full-time as a freelancer. 

“The last four years, I kept getting more and more commissions, and it was like, ‘All right, this is how I’m going to pay rent. This is going to be my job now.’ And so I was just going really hard at that, at the expense of making music,” said Rankin, who, in addition to designing album covers for releases on Orange Milk, a label he co-founded alongside Seth Graham, has completed eye-catching commissions for companies such as Apple Music and New Balance, among countless others. “When I first started [working as a freelance artist], I was like, ‘This is going to be my escape from the worker-boss hierarchy.’ … And then I came to realize it was the same thing. I was taking money from clients, and they were still telling me what to do. I was still on the leash of money.”

So gradually Rankin returned to making music on the side, becoming more intentional over the last year in carving out specific times to create, during which he allowed the music to evolve absent financial pressures. “I needed to figure out what I wanted the music to be when I’m not focused on money,” he said.

Prior to pivoting more heavily to art, Rankin had nearly finished an album he described as “a pop record,” one created with the idea of reaching a wider audience and, perhaps, creating a pathway to making a living via music. “I started … with kind of that kernel in mind, like, ‘Ooh, I’m going to make some money,’ and then near the end I was like, ‘No, I don’t think I like this,’ and I totally scrapped the album,” Rankin said. “When I make music, I have an external barometer of how exciting it is, like if it makes me tear up, or if I give myself goosebumps, that’s usually my metric of how good it will be. And the pop album didn’t do that.”

"Mirror Guide" album art

With Mirror Guide, rather than starting with an overarching idea (I’m going to make a pop album), Rankin returned to the concepts that inspired his childhood fascination with music, seeking out specific sounds and moments that elicited within him an emotional response. “I was looking for something that was going to give me goosebumps, and so I played around a lot and tried to find what that might be” he said. “And I found this cello sound I really liked, and I would improvise with it for hours, just trying to find that spark.”

A turning point arrived with “Disworld,” which includes vocal contributions from NTsKi, and particularly a moment within the track where the music all but drops out, save for that solitary cello sound. “There were these moments like that, where there’s just this minimal part playing, and those felt very good,” said Rankin, who started playing piano in his mom’s basement as a child. “Where you’re just feeling the music and you’re not concerned with too much else in the moment.”

While goosebumps fueled Mirror Guide’s creation, Rankin conceded that those internal emotional spikes are now less a product of something as simple as a chord change, and are more driven by a confluence of elements that can collide in a given musical moment.

“A lot of those chord changes that used to excite me, I’ve heard them thousands of times, and that feeling has dulled somewhat,” he said. “So now that excitement comes from somewhere slightly different, which is a hard thing to explain. … A lot of times, I think the music conveys things the artist might not even be fully aware of. It’s an intense language, and when you hear it, there are so many things being conveyed nonverbally about the creator, about where it came from, the scene and time it was from, the technology used, the person’s beliefs, their morality. There’s so much that can be packed into the music … and a lot of the joy can be deciphering all of that information encoded in the music.”