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Published: 2009/03/30
by Jesse Jarnow

What Happened – Emeralds

No Fun

What Happened, the 35th-or-so release in three years from Cleveland trio Emeralds, could be one of several realities. It could be that, being my first exposure to their perfect synthy/drifty/blissful/Eno/Fripp jams, of which there are five here, all awesome, I’m just enamored. It could be, also, that when I delve into their pile of CD-Rs/LPs/cassettes and the like, I’ll find stuff that’s even better, and later find it embarrassing to have championed this one. Or, just as likely, it could be that, prolific as they are, all of them might be pretty similar to this (the one other I’ve since heard, last year’s Solar Bridge, bears this out a little) and What Happened is the one that’ll retain its awesomeness.

Two synth dudes and one guitarist (named Mark McGuire, which I first took for some kind of ironic post-Animal Collective stage name) jam out in the timeless fields of ambience. Each track works from a drone, the dynamics only varying occasionally, such as some tropical blip-storms midway through the 15-minute "Damaged Kids." Mostly, it's music to float to, like the bits of distant wordless harmonies that move like ghosts between unbreaking waves on the perfectly titled "Alive in the Sea of Information."

The latter seems to be Emeralds' MO: the egoless egotism of an endless stream of music that disappears into the void (and occasionally onto Soulseek) after they run out of their supply of 100 CD-Rs. They operate with a Facebook-era sense of constantly updating ephemera, despite—and I'm totally guessing here—their total aversion to the existence of Facebook (DIY, corporate motherfuckeeeeeeeeeeerzzz!!!) and they certainly aren't alone in this. The cassette/CD-R underground teems like some low-input/high-output free jazz scene, effortlessly shitting out brilliant jams like What Happened.

Somewhere in there, of course, is a set of musical values, or several sets, along with aesthetics, skills, goals, things that make sessions good or bad, the decisions that—in the case of Emeralds—leave them on the positive side of New Age. It's in the transcendently saturated washes that build the 13-minute "Disappearing Ink" to a dramatic conclusion, and the album's washed-out four-minute coda "Up In the Air." Really, what Emeralds adhere to is the idea that pretty music is cool and, therefore, useful to people. Which is true. Peeps need something to get blissy with, and What Happened works marvelously.

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