Emeralds: Just to Feel Anything (Editions Mego, 11/6/12)
Cleveland trio Emeralds made queasy, sprawling, psychedelic drone music prior to 2010, when it released Does It Look Like I’m Here? That album condensed the music into concise, direct, and absolutely stunning takes on the formula.
Just to Feel Anything is a new mutation in the Emeralds pattern. The most noticeable addition is the regular presence of a drum machine, which places a grid over the proceedings that limits the meandering of previous albums. The upfront aggression of fast, midrange saw-tooth arpeggios has been swapped out for more delicate pads and chords. If the last album felt like an amplified variation on 1970s kosmische, this one feels like a modern take on the new age and electronic experimentation of the early 1980s.
“Through and Through” is, essentially, a light FM ballad. Meanwhile, the title track takes a simple electro backdrop and slowly turns up the heat, layering Mark McGuire’s infinite-sustain guitar over pinging synthesizer patterns before letting the whole thing fall out, leaving a quiet drone behind. It’s a familiar Emeralds trick, and it’s always effective.
If there’s a criticism to level at Just to Feel Anything, it’s that for the first time, there is a spacious, easy-to-follow tonality that invites vocals (which never arrive). Perhaps it’s the lack of abrasion that makes the music feel relatively austere. Still, few acts make otherwise challenging experimental music as easy on the ears as Emeralds.