Across releases via limited vinyl pressings, rare CD-Rs, and tapes, the group's often been poorly lumped in with the noise or, more perplexingly, the "hypnagogic pop" (groan) scene. But for their fourth proper full-length—we could probably argue about this, but by my count, they're Solar Bridge on Hanson, What Happened on No Fun and the self-titled on Wagon and Gneiss Things—the band has served up another reminder that they're far more interested in the pastoral daydreams of kosmische, brainy New Age and light-Krautrock acts like Ash Ra Tempel, Tangerine Dream, Cluster or Jean-Michel Jarre. This time around, though, Emeralds have landed on Peter Rehberg's experimental giant Editions Mego, and perhaps expectations have been raised beyond the realm of the tape-traders and Cleveland catalogue hawks. In return, the band has offered arguably their sharpest and most short form, pop-inclined record to date.
Much of the credit for this concision belongs to Mark McGuire, whose clean, emotive guitar work serves to center much of the band's sonic escapism. Opener "Candy Shoppe" is slow, wistful bliss, McGuire's gentle lines setting a warm landscape for its entwined synthesizer melodies. "The Cycle of Abuse" allows him more wiggle room, his guitar soon losing space to the track's cloudy drones and hushed vocal moans. Both "Double Helix" and the title track are more Argento-inspired, their shadowy arpeggiated synths almost grinding into energetic guitar parts which sound almost like a car chase (the chaser, not the chased). "Summerdate," meanwhile, owes its coarse beauty more to the drone/noise atmospheres with which the band was formerly aligned, a snowy blast of static like bits of data forging sound.
For those who've always liked Emeralds best when they've allowed their ideas to unravel beyond the ten-minute mark though, there's album centerpiece "Genetic." It opens with a pulsating analog synth melody and ascendant vocals that sound like the closing hymn from a much distant church—resounding, rejoicing and mourning all at once—before McGuire's slippery, Gottsching-indebted guitar anchors its psychedelic swirl. And yet, even as it pushes into the dense wanderlusts of their past, there's a distinct concern for melody.
Consider it a fitting recombination of the band's pensive, somewhat academic epics and Does It Look Like I'm Here?'s commitment to more digestible nuggetry. Whether their fourth is the album that finally propels Emeralds beyond the small insular circles fed by noise and vintage analog gear fans is yet to be seen. But it's their best to date in an already impressive catalogue, and my God that oughta add up to something, right?