Shine on you crazy diamonds: a eulogy for Emeralds

Samuel Breen

emeralds 300x225 Shine on you crazy diamonds: a eulogy for EmeraldsA number of weeks ago Emeralds kicked the bucket. Cherished by their fans, championed by the critics. There was something endearingly straight up and bullshit-free about Emeralds. Their live shows were loud. Real loud. They turned it up to create something you could feel. They existed out of context, beyond relevance. The only thing important about the group was how good they sounded. How soulful their music was.

In 2006 the US cassette scene was peaking. With dusty synths available freely from thrift stores; found between VCRs and plastic table lamps. A generation of fearless dudes took the time to master these instruments. To return to an outmoded sonic dialect.

At the time there was a hell of a lot of emphasis on the crude industrial nature of the music. Broken electrical equipment played by neanderthal virtuosos. From this sonic clutter a strand was emerging and it was very 90210. It was a sunshine state of 8-bit retro. Locally to them in Ohio, acts such as Mike Shiflet and personal favourites Burning Star Core were making power electronics. Emeralds existed in this world but they were out of tune with their peers. They were versed in electronic music composer Klaus Schultze and a revered Brian Eno and Robert Fripp guitar project.

The band are not easy to understand. I have spent a lot of time with their records and made very little progress. While it maybe relatively easy to assess the Komische/Fripptronic education that inspired the music, less clear is where they took it and what it is precisely they were trying to create.

With so many tapes overlapping themselves from recording to release and with the band rhizomic growth, it’s easy to dispute a point of change. There is no linearity in their progress. Gradually emerging from the fuzz of dying machines. There’s no point arguing the precise moment but Emeralds crossed over from cave to sunlight. As each release, each track would dance between these spaces, there was always a momentum, a potency with which their music world became brighter.

There are dozens of moments one could cite to hand. Solar Bridge in 2008 is one of those. Amidst the misty glow of reverb a warmth consumes the listener. A soulful feel. A loving embrace. This is what made Emeralds great. Not their frame of reference, nor their instrumentation, nor industriousness. Emeralds shined because they made beautiful, feelgood music. Reaching to their audience with the passion of Whitney Houston. Theirs is an engaging, dense sound.

Between 2008 and 2010 the group went through purple patch: Solar Bridge, Live, What Happened, self titled, and Does It Look Like I’m Here – with What Happened being the jewel, as the trio turned to improvisation. Meanwhile each of the members – John Elliott, Mark McGuire, Steve Hauschildt – were turning around solo and side projects in frighteningly short intervals.

Emeralds were always a band who entertained dualities. Theirs was always a bringing together of ideas and sounds. They operated best when negotiating markers, tightrope walking between sounds that could have killed them – between gaudy 80s tropes and offish noise. They took serious risks and found an audience through their passion for soulful music.

Their latest record, and now their last, was a conflicted album riddled with potholes and difficult passages, harmonised guitar solos and bright arpeggiations. The record entertained the duality of describing a numbness, and piercing through it. Just To Feel Anything is an honest, warts and all record.

The sound of a group over reaching, desperately seeking progress but arriving at a sound that felt exhausted.

Fader published an interview, with Mark McGuire talking about the record: “I think 95 percent of people in the world are convinced that none of the stuff they ever felt or cared about is real or matters at all or is relevant to today’s world, which is pretty much true. So trying to put your soul into a record today, when basically nothing seems to matter anyway, is kind of tough. It’s just a weird time to be making music. I mean, god, you can’t even fall off your chair without it being on YouTube and eight million people watching it and laughing at you”.

In confirming his departure and the death knell for the group Hauschildt tweeted, “Our legacy is one to be felt, not remembered”. And he’s right. If you haven’t yet experienced your hairs standing on end as a bass rich drone fires along your neurones, I’d recommend checking them out.

Some of the records mentioned here are now available. Other than that it’s the case of digital or digging.

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