The new CD reissue of Emeralds’ self-titled LP, which was originally released way back in 2009, is very attractive as a whole. Tucked into the sleek Digipak sleeve is a 16-page booklet of mysterious, dusky photographs taken by the band. The images seem recognizable at first, as one notices a lot of water, shorescapes, and beaches. But these scenes are slashed with unexplainable phenomena—multicolored crinkled-foil lights, bridges of neon submarines beneath the surface of water, bizarre sea floor landscapes. This little booklet offers a tantalizing parallel to the music on the CD—composed of recognizable parts, yet deeply, resolutely complex.
The four pieces here may be familiar to many—lacking the original vinyl issue to compare, I can only describe what I heard on disc. James Plotkin’s mastering for CD enhances and shapes the music superbly. His work shows up on so many top-quality releases that it’s almost expected here. As such, I appreciated in this case the pleasure of listening to this as a CD—in a car, in headphones, and the like. It was fascinating to hear, particularly on headphones, the resourcefulness of all three players. They are masters at exploiting simple ideas like panning through complex sequencing to produce the familiar multilayered effect that’s both clear and somehow opaque, prodding the listener’s thoughts toward enlightenment through pounding, primordial drones and patterns. There is a virtuosity of restraint here. Mark McGuire’s guitar sounds just enough like it’s not a guitar at just the right times. The synths bounce back and forth with just enough vigor to corral the moment, becoming gradually musical until they break into clusters of glowering energy.
I’ve been thinking about the importance of taking into account the merits and the drawbacks of all formats these days, recognizing the unique features of each listening environment. This disc, released in a relatively large edition of 1000, sounds great, and with Plotkin’s mastering is a welcome way to hear Emeralds in a pristine audio environment. But it’s strategically placed as well. It will certainly open up the band to many new people at a time when they are growing fast, their concurrent debut release on Editions Mego opening them to a wide potential audience. For some of these people, this “Emeralds” reissue would serve as a concise, widely available statement of purpose by the band. For others, Emeralds may continue to be a fascinating but overwhelming group, impressively prolific and freewheeling in content. But the question must still be asked of each release, “is this essential? What sets it apart?” With this reissue, from the music to the photos to the choice of format, Emeralds have not only broadened their audience, but have convincingly shown the clarity of their vision. It seems increasingly to me that it’s this underlying cohesion that draws in so many listeners over and over to this band. 9/10 -- Travis Bird (16 June, 2010)