Emeralds Just To Feel Anything(Editions Mego) Buy it from Insound
It’s a tricky business attempting to make sense of Emeralds’ musical output, and not just because there’s so much of it, thanks to the prolific activities of the band’s various members. There are a whole manner of contradictions implicit in their work, such as their striving to reach heavenly artistic peaks with an almost complete lack of ego, or their relying on digital technology to create modern pastorales, that they then title these delicately meandering works with fairly stark, even confrontational titles, and, most obviously, the fact that the relatively youthful group are devoted to using retro technology to capture an era from before they were born.
Although, despite such a complicated preamble, Just To Feel Anything, will be instantly familiar to those who have acquainted themselves with the group’s previous output, particularly their 2010 sort-of breakthrough, Does It Look Like I’m Here?. It’s the same thing, but as the truncated track lengths (and the fact that there are only seven of them in total), and the surprisingly hard beats (relatively speaking) of the opening track show, Emeralds have approached this latest work with a leaner, fiercer outlook.
That’s not to say that there aren’t new ideas here, or, to put it more accurately, new old ideas, as there are several attempts to recapture other past eras, such as the slightly brutalist disco of Adrenochrome and, perhaps more fancifully, in the combination of chiptune-alike synth arpeggios and rock-god guitar solos of Everything Is Inverted and the album's title track, they might well be hinting at the sound of a teenage boys’ bedroom sometime in the late 80s/early 90s (for full nostalgic effect, try huffing some Lynx deodorant and downing a bottle of 20/20 while listening… although perhaps not as such a combination is neither pleasant nor healthy).
If all this seems like a fairly long-winded way of attempting to describe the now fairly old-hat genre of ambient electronica, then you’d be right. Sort of, as there’s a reason why contradictions are so integral to Emeralds’ appeal - when they attempt to do something a bit more direct, like the studied, soft rock guitar-work of Through & Through (you can practically picture the powerfully unsexy Eric Clapton-y look of intense concentration in its ‘serious’ musicianship) or the Lynchian soundscapes of The Loser Keeps America Clean, then they become a considerably less vital prospect.
Rather neatly, all this talk about contradictions also allows for a nice segue into a discussion of Just To Feel Anything’s other shortcoming, as, while the album is undeniably a more polished, focused and tighter work than its predecessor, it is for that very reason also a little bit less satisfying. Arguably a large part of Does It Look Like I’m Here?’s appeal lay in its ambling sprawl, and Emeralds might have shot themselves in their collective foot by jettisoning this.
Otherwise though, there’s much to recommend Just To Feel Anything and while, as with all retro-leaning instrumental rock, the question of its exact purpose is perhaps a little hard to answer when the details come together, as in Adrenochrome’s shifting bass-line, or in how the title track gradually blossoms into life, such concerns are ultimately rendered entirely, wonderfully, redundant.