With their last record, Does it Look like I’m Here, Emeralds mixed short-form pieces the length of pop songs in amidst the longer, slow-building tracks that they had made their name with. One of the album’s best tracks, “Goes By” – which travels spacious byways somewhere between Pop¬-era Gas, and Brian Eno’s work with his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois on Apollo – is sandwiched between the two lengthiest and most muscular inclusions: “Genetic” and the title track. The pleasure of its drifting presence between these two cerebral, proggy mountains of arpeggio and noise is merely the most remarkable among many such pleasures throughout the record. Those looking for similar moments on the Cleveland trio’s latest for Editions Mego may find themselves slightly disappointed: while there is still quite a bit to be enthusiastic about, bloat and shine are also plentiful, and not always in appealing measures.
One thing that differentiates Just to Feel Anything from previous Emeralds work – and the majority of the outside projects of Steve Hauschildt, Mark McGuire, and John Elliot – is beats. I have no problem with that, except that none of these tracks really work all that well for me here. Best of the bunch is “Adrenochrome,” which in its best moments reminds me of the most guitar-solo heavy parts of Manuel Gottsching’s “E2-E4.” There’s something slightly somber about the tone of it, even during McGuire’s most effusive guitar work, and this nocturnal weariness makes it worth a spin despite a certain evident slickness. “Everything Is Inverted” and “Just to Feel Anything,” on the other hand, feel like odes to an older vision of the future processed through ’80s video game music, and, while there is nothing wrong with that template, neither takes me anywhere I particularly want to go.
My favorite piece on the record is “Through and Through,” no doubt because it feels like kin to “Goes By,” but also due to McGuire’s guitar work, which is much more restrained, not to say subdued, here than elsewhere, the faint structures of its chiming chords meeting beautifully with the meditative ebb and flow of Hauschildt and Elliot’s synthesizers. “The Loser Keeps America Clean” is a dark little foray into decay and haunted space, sounding something like the pockets of annihilation that populate the darkest corners and corridors of Leyland Kirby’s work as The Caretaker. And Emeralds make it work.
Just to Feel Anything closes out with “Search for Me in the Wasteland,” a melancholy piece built around layers of guitar delay, subtly accompanied by a sea of electronic eye shadow and acoustic guitar strumming. It sounds like a lot of McGuire’s solo work, and while it’s enjoyable, especially for the slow, otherworldly synth melodies that come in toward the end, it can’t touch the immersion of Does it Look like I’m Here. Each member has been involved in more engaging releases than this in the time since their last release, making it all the more puzzling that things haven’t quite come together here. But as they all seem intent on issuing as much material as possible, maybe it was bound to happen sooner or later.
Inner Tube – Inner Tube
Steve Hauschildt – Tragedy & Geometry
Imaginary Softwoods – The Path Of Spectrolite
Stream: Emeralds – “Through and Through”