Last year was a banner one for Cleveland’s Emeralds, the trio of John Elliott, Steve Hauschlidt, and Mark McGuire. It saw releases on essential underground labels Hanson, No Fun and Weird Forest, as well as an opening slot on one date of Throbbing Gristle‘s U.S. tour. In December, they self-released an LP on their own Wagon imprint. It was a summation of their strengths, highlighted by the sidelong epic “Passing Away.”
If 2009 was the year that the members of Emeralds solidified their reputation as underground superstars, 2010 marks a bid for wider recognition. Recorded for Peter Rehberg’s closely watched experimental electronic label Editions Mego, Does It Look Like I’m Here? is the most deliberately paced and carefully considered entry in Emeralds’ sprawling catalog. Ranging from propulsive slices of melodic hypnosis, like “Double Helix,” to dissonant sound clusters, like “Summerdata,” the album is unmistakably Emeralds, but the compositions are the band’s leanest and most sophisticated yet.
One of the keys to the album’s success is the prominence of McGuire’s guitar. Always a key to Emeralds’ sound, something that distinguished the band from its all-electronic contemporaries, here his distinctive guitar passages often take center stage. The centerpiece of Does It Look Like I’m Here? is “Genetic,” a 12-minute masterstroke of carefully evolved musical gestures both minimal and maximal. Starting with a dense loop of synth sounds, the track unfurls a series of sonic strategies that range from arpeggio waves to mesmerizing processed guitar. “Genetic” pays tribute to the legacy of innovators like Robert Ashley and Klaus Schulze but incorporates the various preoccupations of each Emeralds member, resulting in a classic instance of the whole being greater than sum of the parts.
Emeralds’ individual members are constantly adding new gear to their setup (or re-building from scratch: last year Hauschlidt had the majority of his equipment stolen while on tour in Brooklyn) and are recording in a number of solo and side projects. It is this force of personality that makes Emeralds more than just an academic exercise in electronic music. “Synth revival” is a simple and accurate term to describe Emeralds’ basic sound, but it ignores the depth of feeling and strong sense of character that makes the group distinct. The professional presentation of Does It Look Like I’m Here? and its appearance on Editions Mego are overt indicators that Emeralds has made it to the big leagues of the experimental-music scene. The quality of the music contained within proves the band is more than worthy.
Emeralds “Go By”