Emeralds – Just to Feel Anything

11 Nov

Review originally posted on Pop ‘stache

Emeralds is a trio from Cleveland comprised of John Elliott and Steve Hauschildt on synth and guitarist Mark McGuire. Their sound is a modern electronic spin of the 1970s kosmische artists–something in between Oneohtrix Point Never and Ash Ra Tempel. Emeralds is also one of the busiest musical collectives in recent memory. Constantly recording, they have released a slew of cassettes, EPs and now five LPs in less than six years, not to mention active solo projects.

Aside: Mark McGuire is not to be confused with baseball’s Mark McGwire, though both could be suspect to using performance enhancing drugs considering McGuire’s extensive catalog with and without Emeralds.

Their forth proper album Does it Look Like I’m Here? in 2010 earned them critical acclaim and was a “breakout” album of sorts. It is a miraculously coherent mish-mash of arpeggiated synths, buzzing drones and sparkling loops that found Emeralds at their most accessible to date. Just over a month ago they announced the upcoming release of their first album since Does it Look Like I’m Here?.

Just to Feel Anything is dwarfed by its well-received predecessor; it is almost twenty minutes shorter and approximately half the tracks. Already the listener assumes that this will be a less momentous album. The opener, “Before Your Eyes,” reaffirms that notion. The song begins with a promising build-up but ultimately reaches a bit of post-rock boredom. “Adrenochrome” is expected to be trippy and terrifying to match the overdose scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but instead it predictably plods along ending with a guitar riff that sounds like it should be used to sell Dodge Rams.

“Everything is Inverted” and the title track are total mid-80s transplants. The former plays like the soundtrack to an impossible Marble Madness level and “Just to Feel Anything” could have been pulled from an old Ridley Scott sci-fi film score. These kitschy, chiptune tracks may initially put a smile on a video gamer’s face but resonate as creative retreats after more than a few listens.

Somewhat surprisingly, the quieter tracks on the album stand out. “Through & Through” is a creeping slice of new wave and “The Loser Keeps America Clean” is a sinister drone, both of which cleanse the audial palette between less memorable tracks.

Aside: For two weeks now I have been listening to this album on my iPod and it cuts the song title “The Loser Keeps America Clean” off at “The Loser Keeps America.” I assumed that there must be some deep-rooted disgust with President Barack Obama, as the album was released within a day of the election. It turns out that this was just a strange coincidence.

“Search For Me in the Wasteland” is easily the best track on the album, exhibiting McGuire’s exceptional layered guitar while Elliot and Hauschildt provide a soundscape dense enough to lose oneself in.

Just to Feel Anything is entirely listenable, though it leaves much to be desired in the wake of Does it Look Like I’m Here? After two years of creative silence from Emeralds, one would have assumed a release that was more innovative and adventurous (if not downright bombastic) but the album does show promise in some ways. “Search For Me” shows that they’re not afraid to hone their downtempo craft and on tracks like “Adrenochome” and “Everything is Inverted,” McGuire’s guitar finally starts to shine through as more than just an afterthought. Just to Feel Anything isn’t a creative step back per se, but rather a careful sidestep from a band that will likely continue to evolve.

Noteworthy Track: “Search For Me in the Wasteland”

Rating: ***

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