As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to shed a bit of light and share a bit of information on the up and coming sounds of artists such as Emeralds.
First things first, forget every new article you’ve read labeling the synth drone movement ‘hypnagog[ic]‘. While a fine descriptor, it does a large disservice to the myriad DIY artists to be smooshed under the same lazy umbrella. Consider it as lazy a journalistic term as ‘indie’ or ‘alternative’. The age of overusing simple terms for the layman are over.
Why make such a big deal over something seemingly so trivial? When talking about the latest from Cleveland trio, Emeralds, it seems that every Tom, Dick, and Harry is quick to rely on the passed around term in their blurbs concerning the output Mark McGuire, John Elliott, and Steve Hauschildt when, in fact, the work of Emeralds is not all that far removed from the psychedelic experimentations of Tangerine Dream or Ash Ra Tempel. Granted, moods and techniques have evolved across four decades of music, but the heart of adventure is still the same bloody red effigy it was during the era of love children, flower power, and third eye spirituality. Without sounding grandiose or absorbent, Emeralds tap into those past fetishes with a degree of precession that surgeons dare to dream.
The latest LP from the trio, released jointly via Emeralds’ own labels Gneiss Things and Wagon, delves deeper into the karmatic center of synth and drone. Hailed as the proper follow-up to last year’s Solar Bridge, Emeralds is less an album trying to build on past achievements and more a trek to spiritual well-being. Emeralds create a thunderstorm of guitar, synth, and effects that baptizes listeners with a summer deluge. Clothes soaked with hair firmly matted to skull, you move your hands toward the heavens in a greater understanding of god -- whatever form or presence it may or may not have in your life.
Emeralds begins with the ominous “Overboard (Off the Deep End),” which sets a bleak tone in some faraway desolate land. The winds screeches mercilessly as dark forces descend from the dim heavens with gnarled faces and unearthly powers. Soon, you’re surrounded by the unknown; swallowed by foreign invaders and evil-intentioned malcontents ready to feed on your fear. “Geode” finds your pulse quickening with the jumpy melody, unable to stem the fear welling up inside. The sinister plans of those who surround causing any idea to escape and any hope to fade -- until McGuire’s guitar cuts through the disorienting synth with its thunder burst and rapid rain, washing away those fighting against you. It’s a cleansing track, clearing away the fear of the unknown -- in this case the hard-edged melodies of Elliott and Hauschildt’s dueling synthesizers -- for moments of meditation. “Diotima” provides the glowing orange sunshine to drive away the dark clouds that have hovered over much of the album’s A-side, which is carried over to the album’s flipside finale, “Passing Away.” Every emotional connection made through Emeralds is revisited on “Passing Away;” a slow, but rewarding seventeen-and-a-half minute ride through the good times and the bad. It’s a mainstay of Emeralds—tapping into the unblemished soul and finding the balance between our worst creations and our wildest fantasies.
Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up and Thursday edition of Song of the Day for the KEXP Blog. You can now follow him on Twitter.