What’s so bad about one of your favorite bands changing? This has been my question, one undoubtedly asked several times over in several contexts, be it Peter Green fans when Rumors dropped or Korn fans after that Skrillex collaboration. Opinions amongst the komische diehards have split radically, some heralding this album as pure shit and others as pure fun. The root of this reaction is the fact that much of what people loved about Emeralds’ previous slab is nowhere to be found here. There have been theories floated: Mark McGuire, in Portland, is getting pushed out; Steve Hauschildt is making a power grab; the trio sobered up, lost sight, burned out and decided to pander to lord knows who.
After all, McGuire’s intricate guitar looping? Essentially we get a McGuire solo track with “Through and Through” but it’s more about subtle textures than complex layers. Noodly-but-focused jams with the intensity of good old fashioned, hateful power electronics? Well, “Everything is Inverted” is certainly high-powered and plenty peculiar, but it’s only dipping your feet into the testosterone pool that was Does it Look Like I’m Here. Seizure-inducing aural density? There are incredible climaxes on “Adrenochrome” and the titular track, but this album is distinctly spatial and even momentarily sparse.
But the thing is, this album fucking rules. Even though we’re hopefully past the Christgau-Klosterman music-critical paradigm of “this album is made of diamonds, that album is like a pillow stuffed with horseshit,” Just to Feel Anything is one of those rare albums that evokes a stance, in favor or against. See, all those attributes I’ve listed in the last paragraph are reasons I love it, and generally the exact reasons others are repulsed. Yet these are a collective signification that Emeralds is maturing, realizing their powers and facilities to make whatever kind of music they damn well please.
Individually, they’ve sprung like branches off the Emeralds trunk— each in a different direction, but never separating from the whole. John Elliott’s most recent Outer Space record, Akashic Record (Events 1986-1990), saw him burrow deeper into abstract synthesis, and he seems to bear the compositional brunt of this album’s finest, most restrained track, “Loser Keeps America Clean.” Steve Hauschildt went in another direction, getting all tangled up in detailed sequencing on last year’s Tragedy & Geometry, accounting this albums abundant, Baroque synth work. And Mark McGuire’s tubular project with Spencer Clarke— Inner Tube, earlier this year— saw him directing his shredding prowess from jamming to songwriting, perhaps the true mark of Emeralds growth on this album.
Why did Emeralds bother making this specific album? They perfected their neo-komische jam band schtick via Does it Look Like I’m Here’s powerful homogeny. They could have easily gone the route of idols like Tangerine Dream and spent the rest of their time as a band modifying an excellent formula subtlely with each album. Instead, they decided to assign their abilities as musicians towards more overt songwriting. A large part of this is the result of the fact that every track on the album has definitive structure, a definite arc. If Does it Look Like I’m Here was the culmination of their progress to date, Just to Feel Anything is the gargantuan step towards new invention.
Text: Michael Sugarman