From an outsider’s perspective I’ve never found the whole ‘hypnagogic pop’ thing particularly convincing. Quite aside from any reservations about the loosely defined aesthetic artists like Sun Araw, Pocahaunted and Oneohtrix Point Never are said to share, what the concept lacks is any real focus. Collective rediscovery and reimagining of past ideas is hardly a new thing, and barring perhaps a common druggy haze and a debt to Ariel Pink’s uber-lo-fi pop, the differences between all these artists are far more immediately apparent than any similarities.
So it is with Emeralds. Far more so than any of the hypnagogic crew, the first thing their Editions Mego debut Does It Look Like I’m Here? brings to mind is that other classic of Mego-ness, Fennesz’s mercurial Endless Summer. It’s less a parallel of style than of atmosphere and execution, as both albums work brief snippets of almost-pop into monumental mood pieces that dwell on the tiniest of details. It also succeeds in much the same way, by creating a scarily complete whole that loses little of its power when taken in smaller doses. While there’s no individual track here to rival the monolithic force of ‘Passing Away’, their self-titled effort’s hugely affecting closer – which did a fine job of impersonating what it must sound like to drift down that tunnel towards the light – the ebb and flow across its entire length is a more than adequate substitute.
Working in short, sketch-like form suits Emeralds well. Last year’s Emeralds toyed with briefer song structures to suitably forceful effect, ‘Geode’ in particular compacting all the intensity of ‘Passing Away’ into a piece barely six minutes long. Does It Look Like I’m Here? feels like the culmination of that gradual process, further refining and focusing their sprawling improvisatory past into shapes that occasionally resemble (gasp!) pop songs. Only one, album centerpiece ‘Genetic’, breaches the ten minute mark, and most tracks hang around only for long enough to make their presence known before drifting away into the ether once again. Opener ‘Candy Shoppe’, with its chunky major key build, and the modal scales of penultimate track ‘Now You See Me’ bookend the album with slices of perfect, shimmering pop. In between is a constantly alternating fifty minutes, switching back and forth between curtains of wistful skygaze (‘Science Centre’; ‘Goes By’) and thick, propulsive blasts of kosmische psychedelia (the title track; the tightly entangled structure of ‘Double Helix’), never aimless, never lacking in emotional punch. ‘Double Helix’ in particular is a pleasantly surprising exercise in restraint, dying beautifully just as it begins to gather momentum.
Just like Endless Summer, Does It Look Like I’m Here? evokes a memory of warmth and humidity, seen through the hazy fog of time rather than directly experienced. Perhaps that’s where the ‘hypnagogic’ bit comes in, touching at the borders of waking and dream without ever reaching either. Still, fuzzy groupings aside, what Emeralds’ latest offers is a single entity to get lost in, a refuge where everything is warm and cushioned and any concerns are blown away like tiny fragments of guitar within the gale force of ‘Summerdata’. While its individual tracks might not carry the sheer immovable power of some of Emeralds’ older, longform compositions, as a whole it proves a formidable experience.
8Rory Gibb's Score