08 October 2010
Emeralds - Does It Look Like I’m Here
Editions Mego (2010)
While very enjoyable, last year's What Happened was a somewhat ephemeral delight, awareness of its quality fading into the dark recesses of memory. Perhaps a very clever reference to the inherent temporary nature of beauty. Or not. Whatever the case, that fact occurred to this reviewer when listening to Does It Look Like I’m Here, the Ohio trio's latest, and Mego debut. It's another delight while it lasts, but is it missing that special ingredient; the confounded x-factor?
When an artist works in the candy shop(pe) of synthesisers and samples, the temptation can be great to simply construct a melange of loops and arpeggi, before sitting back, content in the knowledge he has once more involved himself in the art of composition. The effect can be super-luscious when layered just right, but this method is rather more miss than hit in the grand scheme of things. Once or twice, Emeralds fall foul of this trap on Does It Look Like I’m Here. Perhaps the thrill of buying new equipment over-rides what may seem a Promethean desire to interfere too much with the novelty of sounds. I don't know.
Emeralds seem to realise this potential pitfall. 'Double Helix' loops along in a relaxed manner (admittedly fittingly, given its spiralling namesake... but the song was presumably named after its own structure, rather than the moniker forcing the song into its shape), but the group has compensated for this in advance. Ever-important track #1 is 'Candy Shoppe', a song that begins by laying out a Sim City spaghetti junction of pixel layers, but which transcends that by injecting actual melodic progression.
Just as you're starting to get all cynical about the form the song - and album - might take, the dirt-bass synth line enters to chart a line that's oddly similar to 'Never Meant', the beautiful signature anthem by emo/indie mayflies American Football. This happy submission to the traditional song empowers, rather than compromises, Emeralds' message: electro-fuzz translations of decade-old emo classics = A Really Fucking Good Thing (and a breath of fresh air, however unintentional). It's a human touch, a sense of sentience in what could otherwise have been a faceless jumble of rather nice aural strands. While it's accessible and fun, the song's charms are too delicate for clubland: this is a cosy, personal buzz.
When the twin paths of textural and melodic progression unite, as on the epic 'Genetic', we end up with a clear album highlight. Opening with the kind of Philip Glass-ular rippling repetition you might expect to soundtrack a montage of rushing rivers, newspapers and money being printed, and the trails of speeding cars' lights on night motorways. Equally, it summons images of myriad digital seraphim batting their wings against the neon stained glass of the Church of Kraftwerk. For twelve minutes it ebbs and flows, but with ever-building inertia. Electric guitar once more shows Emeralds' fearlessness in the face of retro or corniness, as it adds to the tonal palette of the piece, as well as the welcome audacity of the band. From here we get early 90s Orbtechre synth-waves and random Sounds of the Future. Perfect for balmy summer evenings, especially in the last few minutes when the mix turns itself inside out, a la Kyuss' '50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up)'.
After the euphoric of 'Genetic' comes a welcome change of pace, in the serene 'Goes By'. This juxtaposition raises a question about Emeralds. When you hear these two songs together, as well as that blinder of a first song, the less memorable songs get put into perspective. While nothing on here is less than good, it makes you wonder how much of it you'll remember a year from now, when Does It Look Like I’m Here is as old as What Happened. There is definite growth here; whether Mego courted Emeralds due to their increasing sophistication, or the band decided to poshen up after being invited to Rehberg's party (or a combination of the two), the move towards more coherent structures is evident. This is not Emeralds' "pop album": the coincidence of this lot, Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance and Black Dice (and whoever else's sound is - gasp! - evolving) all making the same move in the space of 18 months is ludicrous.
But this is more accessible than past albums, and at its best, more complex and rewarding. You get the feeling that there is better to come; that there is a record on their horizon that can consistently achieve the high points of What Happened, Emeralds and this one. It's a fine line between dynamism and patchiness, and it's not as though an album full of 'Genetic's would particularly work. You do get the feeling that while they may not quite be there yet, Emeralds have it in them to walk that line with aplomb.