Just to Feel Anything

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Cleveland, Ohio-based instrumental trio Emeralds grew out of the basement-dwelling noise scene of experimental improv sessions, limited-edition cassette releases, and generally challenging sounds. Their earliest recordings found guitarist Mark McGuire and synth players John Elliott and Steve Hauschildt at constant odds with each others' sounds, struggling to find a balance between beautifully melodic electronics and grating dissonance. 2010's Does It Look Like I'm Here? was something of a breakthrough for the band, presenting their cleanest and most accessible material without losing the richness that characterized their denser, more experimental early material. Two years later, Just to Feel Anything beautifies and streamlines Emeralds' sound even further, moving into their most compositionally straightforward work and incorporating drum machine rhythms into an increasingly polished version of the band's Krautrock-meets-improv aesthetic. The album's seven songs shift seamlessly between melancholy minor-key explorations and puffed-up MIDI-synched keyboard and drum machine workouts. Beginning with the energetic soundtrack rave-up of "Before Your Eyes," Emeralds introduce electronic rhythms to their cinematic synth warbles in a way that calls to mind the most saturated VHS viewings of '80s movies scored by Tangerine Dream or Jean-Michel Jarre. The newfound drum machine pulsations continue on the muscular "Adrenochrome" as well as the eerie horror-movie soundtrack presence of the title track. While the development in Emeralds' sound is a logical progression from their unhinged beginnings, the best material on Just to Feel Anything comes when the band tones down their compositions and tend toward their more reflective impulses. The blurry textures of "Through & Through" meld Boards of Canada-esque foggy-pasture landscapes with McGuire's phased-out multi-track guitar noodling. Buried wordless vocal sounds sit in the background, a rarity on previous Emeralds' output. Closing track "Look for Me in the Wasteland" also expands the band's repertoire of sounds, bringing acoustic guitar strums and electric piano tones into the tune's plodding, painfully wistful eight-minute meditation. The track has the same nostalgic fingerprints on it as McGuire's solo albums, which are often melancholy reflections on family, childhood, and times past. Though the group's progress here is remarkable, it's their most familiar moments that still resonate deepest. The amped-up chiptunes and film score moments are interesting enough, but the band sound their best when expanding on the lush tones and tension-laden improvisations they've been working on since the beginning.

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