Thursday, August 28, 2008

Emeralds - Live (Gneiss Things CD-R)

Ever since that Quintana Roo split I reviewed a ways back, I had been jonesing for more of Emeralds' sound. Given that their whole approach is about a certain quantity of volume and the sheer mass of their sound, it didn't seem right to only have one side of an LP. So when I went to No Fun Fest back in May, I especially had my eye out for some longer material.

Now I know it's been a while, and this is all old news, but I haven't really mentioned No Fun Fest at all. See, my friend and I had this swell idea that we would see the Skaters on the main stage and then, just before Skaters ended, run downstairs to the bar stage to catch Emeralds up close and personal. Needless to say, everyone in the place had the exact same idea that we did, and as soon as Clark and Ferraro had finished up their peyote ritual the crowd basically turned and ran. We were lucky enough to be pretty far back so we could still get good and close, but it ended up not much mattering because Emeralds destroyed any possibility of missing them. What I hadn't realized, and what doesn't much come across in the recordings, is the intense volume that accompanies the group live. The room was literally shaking with their high-pitched cosmic excursions. It was so blissed and beautiful that it was practically scary. Sublime, if you want to get Wordsworth on it. And the whole time the one synth guy, Steve Hauschildt, looks gravely concerned, carefully extracting these ebullient sounds from his Moog while John Elliott stared the crowd down with a look less than pleased. Mark McGuire's guitar was just as serious, basically making it the highlight of the whole night. Crazy.

Anyway, I picked up this disc there, as it was just coming out on Steve's own Gneiss Things label, which is already shaping up to be a goody. And if quantity was what I was looking for, then this was indeed the disc to get. Containing five tracks clocking in at about eighty minutes, this is about as much Emeralds as I can take in one sitting before its grandiosity becomes too much.

The disc opens with a killer set from their hometown of Cleveland, which at twenty-two minutes is the longest and perhaps most realized of the disc. Emerging from a background clutter of warm fuzzed drones, the beast bobs and swells through various permutations of warm, soul crushing waves of sound. This is as tight as it comes really, and a whole different realm from so much of the world that they inhabit. Rather than intensify their music with the quality of the sounds they do so with the magnitude of it--huge sweeping swells of synth tone shape and reshape themselves before getting denser and darker. This then reshapes itself as well, drifting off into semi-ambient bleepings that don't sound unlike Eno's Apollo soundtrack at times, only even more minimal and elusive. McGuire's guitar, ever careful, highlights the more dramatic shapes provided by the synths. A real display of prowess.

Track two, recorded in New Haven, CT, is another slow burner which sounds even more like its 70s experimental brethren than the previous track. This could seriously be a Klaus Schulze number, if not Tangerine Dream jamming with the likes of Terry Riley. Another beautiful one before track three, recorded in Amherst at least seven months before anything else on here, emerges with the keyboard chorus and guitar workings of the group. A little darker and, paradoxically, smoother initially, it's a lilting number that, while a bit lower on the fidelity (some crowd chatter as well... bummer), still manages to maintain the well controlled pacing of a group in their element. The drone eventually melds into a cacophonous drone (no chatter anymore!) a la Robedoor, only still with the psychedelic underpinnings the group always exudes.

Track four is another personal favorite, with some truly epic guitar work that suggests the horizon-seeking Neu. There's this one moment actually, a bit over halfway through, where this dead-ass tone comes in, just creepy and analog as hell, and the guitar continues chugging along over it, showing that the group is more than a shtick act--this is a resilient improvisational group in their own right for sure. Track five is a killer closer, fully formed and epic as ever, another guitar display worthy of attention with all sorts of tingling bell like chimes and happy Christmas light sounds (whatever that means)... some parts are super Reichian, but don't get comfortable. The end slays so hard you won't believe it.

An awesome disc, limited to 200 copies. Don't know if it's still available or not (I know Volcanic Tongue has it) but well worth seeking out. The quality of the recording really highlights this group's strengths more than it might some of their contemporaries. Nice.

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