As those in attendance at this year’s No Fun Fest can attest to, the fresh-faced Ohio trio of Emeralds is one of the most exciting and refreshing things to come out of the post-millennial Midwest drone/noise scene. Their Saturday night performance in New York stood out amongst a flurry of acts, and though sets from Giffoni, Whitman, Demons, and Cluster were all synth-centric, no one’s sawtooths, sines, and other various waveforms were so beautifully sculpted and beamed out into the Plejades as Emeralds’. Even Cluster would by night’s end have been smoked at the very game they created.
Released on Aaron Dilloway’s Hanson imprint, Solar Bridge is Emeralds’ first “proper” release, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s the only thing they’ve put out. Like many of their Midwestern ilk, they have accrued a treasure trove of limited-edition tapes, CD-Rs, and a few split LPs that typically go as far as anything on Solar Bridge at capturing their spiritually moving live performances. Older releases like Allegory of Allergies and the comically titled Bullshit Boring Drone Band showcase a band that seemingly never had the need to evolve, as even these early entries into their discography showcase an innate sophistication, uncanny considering their youth. Other gems like Vaporizer and Dirt Weed Diaries show a penchant for heroic doses of perhaps the most important ingredient to the Emeralds’ alchemic brew, and while other local stoners may go for the full-on horror-tronics schlock, Emeralds take the gaseous creep of Detroit’s Hive Mind out of the sinkhole and send it deep into the cosmos, while musically narrating an obsession with the striving for and attainment of beauty and perfection shared by fellow Ohioan Burning Star Core.
Having played together since 2005, Emeralds currently employ the synth and guitar arrangement originally utilized by several of the boys’ German kosmische influences. On Solar Bridge, the tonal suspensions of Marc McGuire’s guitar works in symbiosis with the minuscule manipulations of John Elliot and Steve Hauschildt, who work their mojo on two hulking vintage analog synths, a Korg, and a Moog, respectively. Their interplay and mastery over their instruments bring to mind those graduates of the Berlin School of Electronic Music like Ash Ra Temple and Popol Vuh whose lush arrangements evoked something cold and robotic but still strongly humanistic.
Soaring sounds and eternally unfolding crescendos show a group who, like their older Berlin brethren, are always striving for new heights. This is evident on first track “Magic,” which opens the album like a gently blooming lotus. As a swath of sawtooth fills your head to its utmost cranial capacity, the gushing sonic warm tones massage your frontal lobe. By track’s end, you’ll probably find yourself needing a dribble cup, and don’t be too surprised if you’re levitating three inches above the ground. Where Ash Ra guitarist Manuel Gottsching and Popol Vuh slinger Conny Veit did their fair share of noodling, McGuire doesn’t really “play” the guitar in any standard sense, but rather diverts single sustained e-bowed notes into an f/x factory, softly shifting tonal modalities, more in line with the very early Ash Ra or Eruption jams than anything on Hosianna Mantra. Even the two “side long” jams (yes, I know it’s a CD) are apropos, as this format is reminiscent of the old kraut/kosmische records of yore from amazing labels like Ohr and Brain.
Like “Magic,” “The Quaking Mess” displays a masterful sense of control and restrained power. The flow never seems to gets away from Emeralds, as they consistently toe the line between subliminal ambience and direct sound-brain interaction. More cohesive and ordered than its title would suggest, “The Quaking Mess” has all the distant howls of exploding nebulae heard on Klaus Schulze masterpieces like Timewind or Irrlicht, while its high-pitched frequency arpeggiations and sequencing will have you thinking you’re hearing pan pipes from a Peruvian ayahuasca ritual.
I was tempted to give Solar Bridge a 5/5 rating, but with two pieces clocking in at 28 minutes, it’s almost criminally too short (especially considering that other, less available releases, like the Allegory of Allergies cassette, ran for 120 minutes). But it also reflects my hope that Emeralds will somehow find a way to improve their sound over the course of their still nascent existence. For now, we’ll just have to wait, and if Solar Bridge is not enough to whet your appetite, there is more on the horizon, as well as a back catalog just waiting to be discovered by loyal drone-heads worldwide.