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
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 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
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
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).
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
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
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
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.
VDSQ - Solo Acoustic Volume Two (Vin Du Select Qualitite, 2009)
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.
Sick Chemistry turns to droning ambient music with dismal results.
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.
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
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.
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.
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