Emeralds


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

Allegory Of Allergies (2007), 7/10
Solar Bridge (2008), 6/10
Emeralds (2009), 5.5/10
What Happened (2009), 6/10
Does It Look Like I'm Here? (2010), 5/10
Just To Feel Anything (2012) , 5/10
Mark McGuire: Tidings (2007), 6.5/10
Mark McGuire: Amethyst Waves (2008), 6.5/10
Mark McGuire: Off In The Distance (2008), 6/10
Mark McGuire: Light Movement (2008), 6/10
Mark McGuire: Guitar Meditations (2008), 7/10
Mark McGuire: A Pocket Full Of Rain (2009), 5/10
Mark McGuire: VDSQ - Solo Acoustic Volume Two (2009), 5/10 (mini)
Mark McGuire: Living With Yourself (2010), 4.5/10
Mark McGuire: Things Fall Apart (2010), 6/10
Mark McGuire: Guitar Meditations Vol. II (2010), 6/10
Mark McGuire: Get Lost (2011), 5/10
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Emeralds, a prolific Ohio-based trio of (analog) keyboards and two guitarists (John Elliott, Steve Hauschildt and Mark McGuire) that started printing CD-ROMs in 2006, released the first official album with Allegory Of Allergies (Weird Forest, 2007), that was actually an excerpt from a two-hour cassette. The sixteen-minute Nereus is split in two: the first part is devoted to feathery tinkling and dancing, while the second part is a slowly moving deep rumble. The eleven-minute Vicious is entirely devoted to a feverish drone that gets stronger and stronger. House Of Mirrors is another exercise in pushing a sound to its extreme consequences, but the two components (electronics and distorted guitar) complement each other.
A choir-like drone and a sitar-like drone fuse in the twenty-minute Mistakes to yield a drilling noise that fades into a peaceful aquatic soundscape. Completing the mutation, pulsating organic matter intones a minimalist symphony a` la Terry Riley.
The most terrifying moment comes with the growing, thickening rumble of the 14-minute Underwater Mountain before it breaks into hissing sprinkling noise. The 12-minute Snores is its calm counterpart after the storm: waves propagate from the evil center, but the apparent peace is perturbed by a shrill tension.
The brooding drones of the 15-minute Arbol Del Tule mix with the sound of rain while in the background an ominous nebula is gobbling up the horizon.
The 13-minute closer, Light Is Cool, is both the apotheosis and the apocalypse, a majestic wall of noise.

Emeralds veered towards a more physical approach with the two suites of the mini-album Solar Bridge (Hanson, 2008): the massive build-up of Magic and the monster ectoplasm of The Quaking Mess. However, these two pieces were so inferior that they sounded like leftovers from the previous album.

Under Pressure (Hanson, 2008) was a collaboration with Aaron Dilloway.

The 20-minute Vaporizer appeared on the split album Feral Cousins (Ecstatic Peace, 2008).

The nine-minute Fresh Air (2008) was released as a single. The first part, a little brighter and livelier, featured more promiment guitar tones.

Emeralds (Wagon Gneiss Things, 2009) indulges in metamorphoses. Overboard transforms sparse sideral sounds into videogame-like frenzy. Geode takes that videogame arcade theme and turns it into a Terry Riley-style fantasia of chromatic repetition. After an introducetion by a choir-like drone, the 18-minute Passing Away mimicks vintage cosmic music with an undulating sequence. It ends confusingly with a loud wall of noise and a field recording of voices and water. This is not a focused work. Geode is the most intriguing idea but it is not fully developed. The longer track is weak.

What Happened (No Fun, 2009) opens with the mutating filigree of Alive In The Sea Of Information (8:02), a sign that there is now a lot more movement and energy in their music. And thus Damaged Kids (15:01) transforms from a bubbling pond into a sideral drone and then into a quasi-metal guitar riff before ending as a limping disjointed pulsation. At first a guitar in Living Room (16:43) establishes a lulling oneiric current but then a hyper-distorted guitar rips through it. Dissapearing Ink (13:32) wavers and wobbles, and at the end soars with a loud guitar riff. This is a much more "rocking" album.

Does It Look Like I'm Here? (2010) was an unusually fragmented collection of vignettes based on minimalistic repetition. The feverish chromatic whirlwind of Double Helix, and the symphonic space-rock progression of Does It Look Like I'm Here? and the twelve-minute anthemic crescendo of Genetic tend exponentially towards absolute chaos but maintain their identity even when they seem about to explode. The process of repetition leads not to hypnosis but to high-energy Brownian motion. However, it all sounds a bit too simplistic, and some of the shorter pieces are pure filler, not worthy of Emeralds' past production. The fat timbres of the synthesizer do not help. Nonetheless, the hysterical propulsion achieved of some of this clockworks is indeed a powerful intuition that had escaped the founders of minimalism.

Meanwhile, guitarist Mark McGuire was beginning a highly prolific career as a solo soundsculptor of looped and processed guitar music. The cassette Tidings (2007) simply structured his music into two side-long suites. Trips Through the Park presents a narrative format of sorts through a sequence comprising: an ominous miasmatic industrial metronome, a spiraling minimalist patterns, evanescent hissing, sounds of nature, a duet between loud distortion and gentle strumming, and finally the triumph of the sounds of nature. The minimalist fanfare of The Passing of the Road Chief is a more diligent application of the principle of Terry Riley's In C. The cassette Amethyst Waves (Bleeding Panda, 2008) contains Along the Coral Reef, a thick distorted lugubrious drone that eventually exhales fluttering spiritually charged melodic fragments and ends in a calm free-form contemplative strumming. A Matter of Time is a much more canonical (and simplistic) work of minimalism that indulges in slow mutations of fibrillating multi-layered sequences of chords. The two cassettes were reissued as Tidings/ Amethyst Waves (Weird Forest, 2010).

McGuire's Off In The Distance (Chondritic Sound, 2008) contains two untitled 20-minute suites of guitar meditations. The warm melodic repetitive structures of the first side evoke both Mike Oldfield and Neu, with the former prevailing when a medieval theme emerges out of the geometric patterns before being submerged by a psychedelic drone and by galactic burbling. The second side frames a sequence of detuned repetitive patterns between a beginning and an ending that simulate placid cosmic synthesizers. Both pieces sound naive, but the first one already boasts plenty of pathos.
The double cassette Light Movement (Wagon, 2008) contains four mid-length pieces, notably The Path Lined With Colorful Stones, that tries to merge his usual minimalist repetition with John Fahey's metaphysical journeys for acoustic guitar, Dividing Lines, one of his most captivating Steve Reich-ian progressions, and The Turtles And The Lizards And The Snakes And The Dragon Flies And The Field Mouse All Sat On The Riverbank, a fast, pounding and relatively monotonous locomotive, his most aggressive composition yet.
Guitar Meditations (Wagon, 2008) is a mixed bag. The 23-minute Intervals improved McGuire's credentials as a minimalist composer by offering his most playful and intricate stream of consciousness yet, something that straddled the border between Morton Subotnick's dadaistic exuberance and Terry Riley's Eastern transcendence, and that ended in a black hole of cosmic Klaus Schulze-ian agony. Staying Home From School is a threnody of sorts built around babbling robotic vocals and what sounds like the "response" of a synthesizer in its own voice. The 19-minute Night Owls begins with funny reverbs in empty space, like android rodents talking to each other through a radioactive atmosphere, and its slow march-like build-up is anthemic and sinister at the same time, eventually swallowed by a rumbling cloud from which the same little surreal animals reappear to exchange echoes across a much more hostile landscape. The 17-minute Linkletter is not quite as magical as these two flights of the imagination, but the lively Mike Oldfield-ian repetition leads to a somewhat tropical polyrhythm.
Curling, on the other hand, sets in motion too simplistic a clockwork, which, in fact, halfway tries in vain to change course. Rest is a rather uneventful flow of multilayered guitar strumming. The three main compositions, though, represent a peak of minimalist music, regardless of the poor production quality of the tape.
The mini-album VDSQ - Solo Acoustic Volume Two (Vin Du Select Qualitite, 2009) focused on straightforward guitar solos that dispensed with the cerebral repetition and processing of the previous albums. The 12-minute Burning Leaves is a bit more adventurous, but ends up being also a lot less interesting. It is telling that the most intriguing piece is the shortest, Front Porch Breeze.
A Pocket Full Of Rain (Pizza Night, 2009) too reduced the ambitions, besides the duration of the compositions. In Forecast two undercurrents of repetitive patterns merge and erase each other, whereas the calm repetition of The Marfalights is disrupted by the sudden eruption of a second guitar. What is unusual about Radioflyer is not so much the timbres but the way the repetition tiptoes and taps through time: for the first time he seems to pay attention to rhythm. Alas, Sick Chemistry turns to droning ambient music with dismal results.

McGuire's Living With Yourself (Editions Mego, 2010) collected even shorter pieces. The Vast Structure Of Recollection begins with the voices of an ordinary family but then the guitar part is spun around at mad speed and covered with a thick distortion. That effect is terrific, but McGuire does not capitalize on it and simply lets the piece drift away in sterile repetition. Brain Storm boasts the kind of progression that could turn into anthemic, but the meeting with another, shoegazing guitar does not catalyze as much as it could. Most of the pieces are probably meant as impressionistic sound portrays, but they rarely achieve any evocative power. At least Brothers experiments with something new: solid drumming and wildly distorted guitar riffs in the classic psychedelic-rock vein.
Guitar Meditations Vol. II (Wagon, 2010), another double cassette, presented even longer pieces. Unfortunately, the duration was not proportional to the density of ideas. The 30-minute Beneath The Bells sets in motion floating chords that slowly assemble around some prominent tones but then disintegrate into drones. Escape and In The Architecture do little more than 20 minutes of variations on the same melodic fragment. The 19-minute Far Away offers a process that is a bit more intricate and that surges into the minimalist equivalent of a distorted psychedelic freakout, but it ends in several minutes of pointless droning agony.
Luckily the highlight, the 29-minute Wandering Memory, slowly extracts from the center of the galaxy some gentle melodies strummed by the guitar and then turn them into pulsating organisms which then gallop through vast John Fahey-ian prairies. It probably ranks as McGuire's most accomplished fusion of free-form instrumental folk music and repetitive minimalist music.
By comparison with these albums, the lo-fi cassette Invisible World (Cylindrical Habitat Modules, 2010) was rock music.

McGuire's Things Fall Apart (Wagon, 2010) contains two simple suites for acoustic guitar recorded live at home: the 22-minute Things Fall Apart, that resorts to the usual techniques of repetition adding little that was not heard on the previous albums (the rousing shoegazing coda), and the 13-minute Inside Where It's Warm, that at least finds a memorable riff around which to perform the usual cathartic ritual of transformation.
Get Lost (Editions Mego, 2011) contains the 20-minute Firefly Constellations, but mostly recycles old facile digital-loop tricks.
Some of this music was compiled on the double-disc A Young Person's Guide To Mark McGuire (Editions Mego, 2011).

Steve Hauschildt launched his solo career (after a series of cassettes) with Tragedy & Geometry (Kranky, 2011) in a vein akin to vintage machine music, a work that swings between excessive melodrama and excessive display of synth virtuosity. Sequitur (Kranky, 2012) is even more derivative of the masters of commercial electronica of the 1970s.

John Elliott's project Imaginary Softwoods harked back to the soothing free-form new-age electronic music of the 1980s on Imaginary Softwoods (Digitalis, 2010) and The Path Of Spectrolite (Amethyst Sunset, 2011). At the other end of John Elliott's side-projects was the darker electronica of Outer Space's Demonstrations (Deception Island, 2010). Mist was a collaboration between Elliott and Sam Goldberg, documented on Mist (Amethyst Sunset, 2009) and House (Editions Mego, 2011). Elliott was mainly mining the genres of the 1970s for a new generation that was not even born back then.

Spencer Clark of the Skaters and Mark McGuire formed Inner Tube, that debuted with Inner Tube (Pacific City, 2012), devoted to a tribute of Australian surf culture.

Distracted by their solo careers, the trio could hardly complete a new Emeralds album and Just To Feel Anything (Editions Mego, 2012) feels mostly a collective detour than a cohesive unit, achieving the best atmosphere in the nocturnal and mysterious realm of Adrenochrome, Everything Is Inverted and Just To Feel Anything.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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