Emeralds EmeraldsJust To Feel Anything
There are two kinds of Emeralds: the one before “Does It Look Like I’m Here?” (2010), and the present Emeralds, product of that transformation. What happened on that album was a succession of convulsions which, summarising, took the Ohio band out of their underground comfort zone, where they had been for four years. Firstly, for Mark McGuire, Steve Hauschildt and John Elliott it no was longer about releasing layers of drones on cassettes released in editions of 30 copies, on elusive labels like Tusco/Embassy, Fag Tapes, Editions Brokenresearch, or their own Wagon, but to make the jump to an institution of experimental electronica like the Vienna based Editions Mego. And not only that: the sound started to consciously mutate into the Kraut-rock influences that had always been there in the background. Furthermore, the music became somewhat more melodic –or, at least, not as repetitive and arid as on “Solar Bridge” (2008), “What Happened” (2009) and “Emeralds” (2009), the three previous albums, released during a phase of creative bulimia– with some cosmic counterpoints, some ambient, and a few prog-rock outbursts. And even more: since 2010, McGuire has released two magnificent solo albums, John Elliott had been releasing a string of records under the names of Mist and Outer Space (alongside records by other people on his label Spectrum Spools), and Hauschildt is about to release his second in less than a year. All this in addition to their creative output as Emeralds, both together and separately, with names like Manuel Göttsching, Tangerine Dream, and Klaus Schulze, the Holy Trinity of German cosmic music.
Ergo, it was easy to foresee what could happen on the new Emeralds album once the three got back together in one studio. It had to be a cosmic album, German to the brim; any other option seemed far-fetched. The start, “Before Your Eyes”, which begins like one of those long ambient intros that occupied more than half of one side on a Tangerine Dream LP (like “Tangram”, “Zeit” and “Rubycon”), and is quickly taken over by gliding guitars, is actually reassuring: nothing strange has happened, and the band's trajectory so far has been consistent in that double play of promoting the 70s revival while at the same time looking for different ways to express themselves in order to stay in touch with modern times. It's also a very well-measured effort: none of the three main instruments (McGuire's Ash Ra Tempel-like guitar, Hauschildt's rhythmical sequencing, and Elliott's infinitely extended synthesisers; were they Tangerine Dream, they would be Froese, Franke and Schmoelling / Baumann, respectively) is more prominent than the others. “Adrenochrome”, for example, advances with a cyclic and frolicking beat over which some airy guitar and keyboards float. Achieving that harmony so typical of the golden age.
So is there anything more than retro admiration on this “Just To Feel Anything”? Certainly: within its revivalist margins, there are nuances that escape the purely German (the guitars on the aforementioned “Adrenochrome” sound more like Pink Floyd than Göttsching at times), and “Through & Through” is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's kitschy ambient from their Hollywood era, in the mid-80s, in what undoubtedly seems to be a deviation to new age directed by Hauschildt. But from the agitated “Everything Is Inverted” on, the album becomes more rhythmical. And that is new in Emeralds; it's not just a sporadic thing, it's a key element on the whole album. The sequencing of the rhythmic pulses here is bubbling, like tiny explosions of steam and synthetic broth in a beat soup, with increasing speed (of course, with McGuire's guitar stabbing), and during moments like that, “Just To Feel Anything” is on the same level as the other big gliding record of the year, “Themes For An Imaginary Film”, by Adam Miller and Jonny Jewel under the moniker of Symmetry. It's music that suggests hypnosis and a drive along a long, quiet highway at night, with lights flashing every meter.
After the convulsion of “Everything Is Inverted” comes “Just To Feel Anything”, three minutes of ultra-dark and dramatic ambient with synthetic embellishments, before “The Loser Keeps America Clean”, a strange interlude where, in only nine minutes, Emeralds' whole present project crystallises. This piece is the perfect summary of two years of activity that combine the galactic imagery of Ashra ( “Midnight On Mars” as the iconic track) with “Floating” era Klaus Schulze, whilst proudly belonging to a present that in this kind of sound has found a way to escape from a raw, ugly and unsatisfactory reality. This composition features Emeralds' cleanest and brightest curly melody ever: repetitive and minimalistic (again that counterpoint-like structure, perfectly ‘switched-on Bach’), with the anarchistic guitar violently shaking some synthesisers that are determined to hold steady, in line. And, in the end, “Search For Me In The Wasteland”, alien folk (like a sonic description of the valleys of Mars, bucolic music on dead land) within which they refer to the Mike Oldfield of the brief guitar transitions of “Hergest Ridge”. Here they prolong the state of meditation and serenity for eight minutes, calming down the previous eruption, and placing the album in a plain arid zone, with great views of the stars in the sky, before drawing a tremendous rainbow of synths in the two final minutes in which the cosmos seems to come together in one point, like Borges' Aleph.
Compared to Oneohtrix Point Never, Emeralds seem to have stayed behind, obsessed as they are with the Kosmische branch of Kraut-rock. That may be, and we could possibly demand they start a journey to other planets, with new sounds. But in the context of the change after “Does It Look Like I’m Here?”, this new album crystallises, summarises, fine-tunes and divulges a modus operandi that has kept them at the forefront of underground electronic at all times. It's a marvellous finishing touch – and, who knows, a testament – to a winning cycle.