Hanson CD. HN200
Why is it that a group whose sound is so distinctly 70’s synth oriented finds itself at the centre of attention in 2010? Emeralds are regularly compared to Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Harmonia, Ash Ra Tempel and Kluster. I would add Fripp & Eno, Jean Michelle Jarre, Tomita, Terry Riley, the looping guitar work of Mike Oldlfield, the melancholy strumming of Genesis’s Mike Rutherford and even Pink Floyd. Whereas Astro has made the synth sound dated and lumbering Emeralds have revitalised their sound making them sound fresh, melancholy, vibrant, alive, thrilling, sensuous and totally relevant. Be they drenching you with ever increasing drone gushes that spread out over entire sides of vinyl [Allegory of Allergies, Solar Bridge] or drilling for three minute pop perfection, the more recent Mego release Does It Look Like I’m Here contains a couple of shining examples. Emeralds have found for themselves a willing audience for whom puny MP3’s and pick and mix iTunes comps appear about as inviting as a wet weekend in Bognor Regis.
These three young Americans have created quite a stir over the last four or five years. After dabbling with TV sets and getting their hands dirty with the American noise crowd they now find themselves feted by the European cognoscenti. World domination seems within their grasp. Already their ridiculously limited self released cassettes and CDR’s are swapping hands for large sums of money. Hanson has managed to grab three of their releases so far, including this one. And along with Solar Bridge and Under Pressure [also featuring Hanson chief Arron Dilloway on tape manipulation] you could argue it has the best of the bunch. Solar Bridge was a tsunami of crashing drone waves. Two tracks of skull tightening wash that got under the skin like a deep spell. Under Pressure weaved Dilloway’s tape splurges and loops in with the finest celestial drone works you could wish for. The sunburst finish that is the final track is the kind of thing you want to hear on a summers dawn after a memorable night out. If it was the last thing you ever heard in your life you wouldn’t be disappointed.
All of their major works differ slightly in style; What Happened [No Fun] sounds like huge improvised squelching throbs the sound of a dying Swamp Thing, star dust sprinkled over everything, flickering lights, heavy loops of oscillating whorls, fat reverberating echoes that fill up the entire room, desolate wind swept scrubland, aching voids of serenity. Its Mark McGuire’s guitar-work that combines to make the three what they are though. Be it a gentle finger picked melody, a gentle strum or a deftly plucked phrase the end result is always one of exquisite beauty.
On this particular release their is but 35 minutes of music but you’d never feel short changed. The opener [Overboard - Off The Deep End] is a four minute aperitif of bubbling analogue gurgles, Geode is pure pulsing Schulze, Diotima reverberates along like a wobbly mirror with McGuire gently nudging a few strings in accompaniment but the real star is an 18 minute epic. Passing Away is a ghostly Gregorian analogue ohm chant that folds out into a driving pulse beat whereupon McGuire hunches over his Les Paul and works his fingers into knotty shapes delivering a crystal clear note a second fusillade of delight. As the guitar work gets ever more impassioned the synth drone builds and pans out into a huge vista of blinding white light. The whole thing fades to the sound of the Ganges and a Buddhist creation ceremony [again courtesy of Dilloway].
I was lucky enough to catch Emeralds at the 2007 No Fun Fest. A rabid group of noise freaks swamped the meagre stage and took them to their hearts. Last year I saw them play a well attended gallery space and the walls shook. If I was you I’d be seeking them out.
I see Emeralds as one of the few hopes for a music industry keeping itself afloat with a leaking lifejacket that is downloads and ringtones. Listen to any of their work from beginning to end [preferably on vinyl] on a decent stereo stack and you will experience the thrill of hearing music that is genuinely emotional and involving. My only fear is that this good work cannot continue. The recent Mego release contains some splendid shorter outings but for the first time I was left underwhelmed by tracks that appeared to be just plain meandering. Whatever, hopefully the continuing rerelease of their back catalogue will continue apace. I’m here, waiting.