Release Date: Nov 6, 2012
Record label: Editions Mego
Emotions seem to glow brighter in the dark; forlorn wavelengths fed through synthesizers can achieve a primal opalescence when done right. Emeralds is one band, like the nearby Purple Rain-drenched starcluster M83, that wields this jazzy, dramatic secret with authority and vim. Its latest effort, Just To Feel Anything, is distinguished by a tendency to worship equally at the altars of early Detroit techno, proto-synth pioneers like Kraftwerk and Popol Vuh, and sci-fi gloom merchant Vangelis.
We still can’t shake the ’80s — and that might be a good thing. Chromatics’ Kill for Love, Twin Shadows’ Confess, and now Emeralds’ latest album, Just To Feel Anything, are all solid 2012 releases that rent out high rise condos overlooking sprawling metropolises, where the nights are mythical and the morning never comes. The Cleveland-Portland trio of John Elliott, Steve Hauschildt, and Mark McGuire pick up where 2010’s Does It Look Like I’m Here? left off, only now there’s a stronger focus that constructs something wholly pop.
EmeraldsJust To Feel Anything[Editions Mego; 2012]By Josh Becker; November 13, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGGoing back and listening to some of their earliest releases like Solar Bridge and Planetarium, you’d be forgiven for not believing the same trio that recorded those records is also responsible for the newest Emeralds album, Just To Feel Anything. Whereas they were once firmly a drone group, their latest record finds the Cleveland boys at their most aggressive and kosmiche; while still certainly an ambient album, Just To Feel Anything is almost certainly not a drone album. And that distinction is important beyond the genre nomenclature.
It’s a tricky business attempting to make sense of Emeralds’ musical output, and not just because there’s so much of it, thanks to the prolific activities of the band’s various members. There are a whole manner of contradictions implicit in their work, such as their striving to reach heavenly artistic peaks with an almost complete lack of ego, or their relying on digital technology to create modern pastorales, that they then title these delicately meandering works with fairly stark, even confrontational titles, and, most obviously, the fact that the relatively youthful group are devoted to using retro technology to capture an era from before they were born. Although, despite such a complicated preamble, Just To Feel Anything, will be instantly familiar to those who have acquainted themselves with the group’s previous output, particularly their 2010 sort-of breakthrough, Does It Look Like I’m Here?.
Once it kicks in, Emeralds' new disc might surprise those accustomed to the more gentle undulations of previous efforts. While there's more emphasis on Mark McGuire's crisp guitar work, the most obvious shift is the presence of a steady analog drum machine on roughly half the material. This newfound percussive propulsion recontextualizes their trademark glistening arpeggiating, variously offering nostalgic glances towards the experimental end of early synth pop, Manuel Göttsching's electro-Motorik classic, E2-E4, and even the dance music pioneers of Detroit and Chicago.
Cleveland, Ohio-based instrumental trio Emeralds grew out of the basement-dwelling noise scene of experimental improv sessions, limited-edition cassette releases, and generally challenging sounds. Their earliest recordings found guitarist Mark McGuire and synth players John Elliott and Steve Hauschildt at constant odds with each others' sounds, struggling to find a balance between beautifully melodic electronics and grating dissonance. 2010's Does It Look Like I'm Here? was something of a breakthrough for the band, presenting their cleanest and most accessible material without losing the richness that characterized their denser, more experimental early material.
Emeralds are a band who have always steadfastly shun easy definition. Their last album Does It Look Like I’m Here was a blast of warm air in a dense ambient fug. Radiant electronic drone was interwoven with viscous synthesized collages and draped in post—rock experimentation, to create a work which was deservedly lauded by critics and landed near the top of many of 2010’s year-end lists.
It's been two and a half years since the release of Emeralds' excellent Does It Look Like I'm Here?, and each member of the trio has stayed busy. Mark McGuire continued to spool out guitar ambience, culminating in the highlight-reel A Young Person's Guide to Mark McGuire. Steve Hauschildt crafted a solid solo record of synth patterns, and has another due soon.
Emeralds are doubly anachronistic. It’s not just that they’re retro. They aren’t even retro in a particularly contemporary way. With vaporwave, 2012 saw the culmination of a logic that had partly begun in the mid noughties with hauntology and hypnagogic pop. Ariel Pink, Burial, Oneohtrix ….
Cleveland ambient wizards Emeralds have spent the last six years building a reputation that doesn’t exactly hinge on the concept of accessibility. Through countless CD-R releases, cassettes, collaborations, singles and side projects, the trio of John Elliott, Steve Hauschildt and Mark McGuire has amassed a staggering amount of hypnotic and enchanting music, but for many casual listeners the group’s 2010 LP, Does It Look Like I’m Here?, was the big coming-out party: a sprawling yet cohesive journey into the depths of a carefully cultivated psychedelic, Kraut-drone universe. After two years the band has released a follow-up, Just To Feel Anything, and it’s an even bigger gamble for the group but in a surprising way.
Another essential Emeralds acquisition that takes the trio on new tangents. Mike Diver 2012 It takes incredible effort to keep up with the output of guitarist Mark McGuire, such is his productivity. Of equally intimidating proportions is the catalogue of the ambient-cum-electro-goes-drone trio Emeralds, of which he’s a vital constituent. Yet the Cleveland outfit scored a breakthrough with 2010’s Does It Look Like I’m Here?.