2010 saw the beginning of a steep rise in media interest in ambient music. This was largely the result of a coincidence of spectacular records from Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never, labelmates on Editions Mego. The former’s Does it Look Like I’m Here? was a wash of iridescent, overlapping arpeggios, and felt like an unconsciously cohesive series of privileged glimpses at something large and beautiful. Since then they have been curiously quiet, relative to their extraordinarily prolific output of limited edition releases previously.
Beginning recording in July for the first time in two years, Emeralds have dispatched their most recent effort with characteristic efficiency. In the meantime, Oneohtrix Point Never released Replica, a radical and successful shift from similarly babbling synths to chopped, stuttering samples and elongated drones. This prompts the question: will Emeralds stay truer to their roots?
Just to Feel Anything opens with characteristic ethereal hum and guitar plodding on ‘Before Your Eyes’. The warm bath effect is just setting in when a wad of metallic percussion and distorted guitar slams into the track, propelling it upwards. This is a statement. Their latest record is their coldest, darkest, and most disillusioned material to date.
For fans of the band all this will be worrying. Percussion is largely unfamiliar territory, as are abrupt dynamic shifts (which the excellent mixing emphasises). Tonally, the record ventures into areas of the musical museum too unfashionable for even the likes of LCD Soundsystem to enter, frequently recalling German electronic outfits and especially Tangerine Dream, the unpleasant connotations of which will doubtless alienate much of their newly amassed following.
That said, it is also their most tightly focussed and organised work, and an excellent reminder of the merits of some largely forgotten sounds. The chillingly distorted guitar is less meandering than it may first appear, varying motifs that become clearer with repeated listens. You might even describe some of the riffs as catchy. However dated, it fits the dystopian aspect perfectly, which is furthered by careful deployment of sound effects, such as the buzzing, whirling electronic insect on ‘Adrenochrome’, and the cloying emptiness and distant welding of ‘The Loser Keeps America Clean.’
The record as a whole has roughly the typically mountainous structure of an Emeralds track, and its peak and centrepiece ‘Everything is Inverted’ draws together its various strands to a spectacular point. Guitars and arpeggiated synths duel on the left and right while the sparse percussion, as elsewhere, gives it a striking momentum that is entirely new.
In terms of contemporary analogues, the record feels closest to robot-rockers Battles, with its mechanical quality. But where Battles’ music seems crafted by minutely precise factory equipment, Emeralds are reminiscent of cranes or those oil pumps that pepper desert wildernesses, of the incidental beauty that arises from large, isolated moving structures. The record is only a radical departure on their own, highly specified terms; it actually sounds pretty dated. Nevertheless, it’s dedicated to its own aesthetics, building to spectacular climaxes according to its personal ends and rules. The album finishes with ‘Search for Me in the Wasteland’, an aimlessly wandering exercise in repetitive guitar and gentle swathes of sound. It is the Emeralds of old, as if to reassure that they they’ll always be here, they won’t really change, they’ll keep whirring on.
PHOTO / The Arches