Thursday, February 5, 2009

Emeralds | What Happened

As you read about What Happened across the blogosphere, and you hear about it (and hear it) on podcasts galore, and now reviews of it are popping up like ads on a porn site, you realize that Emeralds most recent release might possibly be the most buzzed about underground album of the year so far. I don’t know if that is necessarily saying much, as things seem to be taking off kind of slow in 09’, but if trends in Emeralds history hold true, all the buzz is probably warranted. I guess there’s only one way to find out though. So let’s give it a listen.

Track one, Alive in the Sea of Information floats on a bubbly and active sea of electronics, moving in many directions, and is less static than most of the Emeralds earlier output; although there still exists an undercurrent of drone ambience that makes itself more palpable about half way through the track. One of the first things I notice is the clarity of the various sounds/elements of the track. They are separate and distinct, as the production on What Happened is clearly moving toward a cleanliness is next to godliness aesthetic. Toward the end of the track there is a reflective moment where all is contained in a slow fading out of the sounds, and I am moved. Damaged Kids creeps us out and continues restless through a spacey weirdness which pulsates through depths pierced by clicks and blips and synth-waves that grow in power and feed on themselves, layer building upon layer until all their energies are expelled. This is an uber-planetary-prog exploration which traps us in sheer moments of bliss, but eventually lets us float away. Up In the Air and Living Room create an indelible laser-etching in our minds eye of the beautiful abstract landscape painting which is What Happened, and form the almost pure ambient backbone, mixed with some subtle post-rock like guitar wanderings, upon which the rest of the album rests. Disappearing Ink ends the journey with even more dream-like guitar which lightens the mood and eventually meanders back into a sanctuary of psychedelic light which shines through stained glass etched with saints as well as sinners.

In a recent Tiny Mix Tapes interview, Steve Hauschildt (a member of the trio, along with Mark Mcguire and John Elliot) states, "It’s good to be prolific, and it’s good to always be playing; however, I think you’ve gotta have a lot of discretion." So what exactly does this mean, and why the change of heart? Have Emeralds slowed down in their old age? No, it can’t be that, as they haven't (comparably speaking) been around that long. That's not to say that by looking at their already vast discography, you might be guilty of thinking they are godfathers of the new avant-drone. But actually, the answer probably lies somewhere between a good sense of career history trajectories of previous artists who have managed to stay alive in a vast underground, while also maintaining artistic integrity over time, mixed with a good perception of place, a good sense of personal artistic progression, and also a moving toward minimizing output, at the expense of excess, while focusing all their creative energies on releases that make stronger statements not only due to their content, but also due to their new-found salience in smaller numbers. This is a rise to prominence of content and form through diminution of releases.

Now, all that being said, fucking watch them go out and release 20 cassettes this year. Even if that were the case, releases such as What Happened and last years excellent Solar Bridge will always stand out if not just for the larger scale of the release numbers wise, but the format (CD) of the release. That being said, can we say "discretion" is the better part of valor on What Happened? And does it deserve all the buzz it's getting throughout the webosphere? Well, the answer is a resounding yes, and I'm not going to make any apologies for or against fan bias or bandwagonning, as What Happened is not only a positive step forward for Emeralds, but for current underground music scenes in general. What Happened is a reworking of the old with a good injection of new sensibility. A good ear for tradition, and a good mind for exploration and progression have served Emeralds well.

Overall, What Happened reminds me more of Hauschuldt's solo Rapt for Liquid Minister than Solar Bridge, but it's still distinctly Emeralds, and as we proceed through what is likely going to be a rough, uneven, and possibly even painful year ahead, we can take comfort in knowing some folks out there haven't forgotten how to make us feel better through exceptional art.

1 comment:

monkeyfishrule said...

Hey, I'm from Weird Ribs
Heres a present for you, it's my new full length release 'Tubes'.
Inflences include Emeralds, Growing, pocahaunted, Kraftwerk Suicide, Brian Eno
check it out here: