Emeralds – What Happened

More Fact-age!


No Fun Productions (2009)

I expected something different from Emeralds. The name suggests a music at once multi-faceted, brightly shimmering and hard to the core. But the image, of three neo-grunge dudes slumped anonymously over samplers and synths suggests something altogether sleazier; low-rent. Maybe a poor man’s Wolf Eyes. Or, dare we utter it, a bit like Sightings circa 2004?

Thankfully, the latter is not the case. Nor the former, though Wolf Eyes themselves are a fine combo. The album is split into five slices, two brief (in other words, under ten minutes) and three temporally solid entries.

‘Alive in the Sea of Information’ – a snip at eight minutes – opens What Happened in quite pleasant style. Jetson-futurist sparkles dance across the stereo image over black synth gurgle, while super-slow pitch-bend recalls the Plaid-in-molasses of ‘Kid A’.

Then a beast of a note invades the serenity, consuming all in its path. An uneasy equilibrium is reached, where neither side truly wins. It is at this point that a stretched-out human note joins the fray. The disembodied voice of god, taking no sides in this eternal struggle between light and shade.

This theme of ugly clashing with beautiful recurs throughout What Happened. ‘Damaged Kids’ spends an eternity bound in a chrysalis composed of oscillation and delay. Once it breaks through, it takes flight into the night on silken wings of effected guitar strings in a beautiful place out in the country. But beyond the Boards it treads, strumming, thrumming guitars bring the dread, turning out the stars like lights as their clattering volume increases.

After the brevity of ‘Up in the Air’, we get an electro take on Boris’ Flood, in the disarmingly named ‘Living Room’. Steady drip-drip guitar-picking slowly pools on the sonic floor as a fat synth-bass note lurks in the shadows. This fuzz tone builds and shapes, steadily, into an electronic scythe.

The scythe then slices clean through the skull of the mix. Pink flowers nervously blossom on the brain stem, their radiance refracting shards of light on the murky underworld of Kevin Drumm’s fantastic Imperial Distortion. The flowers flourish and tangle with the handle of the scythe, both competing and complementing in the kinetic melee. Then it ends, abruptly.

Final track ‘Disappearing Ink’ is a victory in motionless dynamics. Those pink flowers reverse-engineer into trees, while bees attempt to go about their nectar harvesting business even as amber hardens around their feet. This is music of paradox: slow waves of melody and texture swarm upward in spirals. Ghosts of song haunt, but are confined to one space, doomed to eternally repeat their one pattern. This is a restless catatonia, where it all happens while time stands still.

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