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Emeralds - Just to Feel Anything

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Artist: Emeralds

Album: Just to Feel Anything

Label: Editions Mego

Review date: Nov. 5, 2012

Six years after their formation in the grubby Nohio underground, you don’t need but a few minutes of Just to Feel Anything to take in just how far Cleveland’s Emeralds have come. Two minutes and three seconds, actually: a drum machine kicks in to stabilize the arpeggios and guitar meditations.

That doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, does it? But there’s something to that drum machine that makes Emeralds’ otherworldliness suddenly tangible and immediate — and less magical. Susanna Bolle was spot on when she argued in 2009 that Emeralds are at their best when they’re doing their “own savagely blissful take on mid-’70s synthesizer drone.” The synthesizers and the guitar tones may not have changed from recent outings, but songs on Just to Feel Anything that otherwise sound like they could sprawl out forever get anchored and even restrained by the beat. It sounds cheaper and less transcendent.

It also sounds more overt, which is the other big development on this record. It’s not as if Emeralds have acted as a claustrophobic, insular unit before, but their songs have suggested an introversion, mind expansion best experienced alone – looking in to look out. That vibe is largely absent on “Before Your Eyes,” a wide-open intro that invites listeners to a world Emeralds have been building toward on cassettes, CD-Rs, LPs, and side-projects for more than half a decade. “Adrenochrome” is the most Jan Hammer-esque moment on the album, painfully obvious in its Miami Vice mawkishness, while “Through & Through” continues to make one feel as though they’re hearing the soundtrack of an ‘80s cop drama, Mark McGuire’s guitar tones distracting in how they steal the attention of the listener from the bubbling synthesizers Steve Hauschildt mastered on Tragedy & Geometry. Maybe McGuire’s solo efforts just didn’t satisfy his “Guitar Hero” cravings enough.

The bright pastiche of the first half of the record separates it from the more familiar, more convincing second half. The most memorable song is almost certainly the earworm of the title-track, but it sounds out of step as a buffer between the other two: “The Loser Keeps America Clean” is only an ambient interlude, but both it and “Search for Me in the Wasteland” are the sort of tracks at which Emeralds excel. The latter, in fact, is the stand-out moment on the album: A long, flowing eight-minute journey, it’s a brilliantly titled trek through the sounds of what this band does best, marching backward past the preceding 34 minutes and six years from Super Nintendo synth lines and drum machines through Tangerine Dream and Terry Riley to their origins in the Hanson tape scene. It’s an awesome bit of music, but a confusing gambit. What are we to make of this send-off? The end of the old Emeralds, or an eventual return?

Many have suggested that 2010’s Does it Look Like I’m Here? was the schism for Emeralds diehards, but even that hi-fi Knight Rider affair feels more authentic than the conflicted flow of Just to Feel Anything. It’s always interesting to hear artists develop, but one can’t help but question the conviction here. Then again, I suppose confusion is a feeling, too.

By Patrick Masterson

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