(No Fun; 2009)
By Chet Betz | 15 April 2009
ESPN’s Bill Simmons capped off his “Untouchables” NBA trade value article back in February with an ode to LeBron James, capturing the giddy feeling that any of us who have ever loved Bron-Bron have pretty deeply felt. It’s a weird mixture of knowing that we’re seeing something raw (that obviously isn’t as good as it could be) at the same time that we’re not sure we’ve ever seen something of like kind or as good as this already is (and when we wonder at the possibilities it melts our minds). Simmons writes: “And to think, LeBron doesn’t even have a reliable 20-footer or a post-up game yet. See, this is only going to get better. And it’s already historic. As a Celtics fan, I shudder for the future. As an NBA fan, I am pinching myself.” With little of the gilded finesse of the Lakers or the charmed dealings of the Celtics, half the international acumen of the Spurs and none of the Yao Ming of the Rockets, the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t have the most impressive or elegant NBA game…but as evidenced by their league standings, they are finally serving as apt witnesses to the chosen one in their midst. Trying to relive the moment he encountered sheer human will almost actualized, Steve Kroft’s probably still chucking underhand bricks from half-court.
Also Cleveland-based so also love-mandated for Clay Purdom, drone/noise/ambient trio Emeralds are a lot like King James and his courtesans: unrefined and undefined but pulsing at the core with greatness and all the potential it entails. More statically dynamic and 10-fps fluid than Sonic careening down a convoluted half-pipe in a 2D world’s simulation of 3, the chaos these Emeralds wreak is as crafty as it is creaky, ballsy and primitive in a cunning way. And Emeralds sound energized by their ideas, vibrant music pumping those ideas out in reckless fashion rather than employing the soft-focus reticence and deliberate tide of many of their perhaps more talented or more studied peers. Simmons uses a mix-and-match technique in trying to shape our perception of LeBron as having the best attributes of the best players, be it the “freaky athletic ability on both ends” of Scottie Pippen or the “competitiveness and sense of The Moment” of MJ or the unselfishness of Magic, etc. Bo Jackson somehow gets thrown in there, too. I could play the same game with Emeralds, stating that they have “Hecker’s rough-hewn pocks filled with beauty” or “KFW’s grand arcs,” “Popol Vuh’s poignant cheesiness,” “some of Sunn O)))‘s abrasive drawl,” “dangerous free space alá Supersilent,” “a sound like ’70s synth experiments with moments of Explosions in the Sky guitar,” but ultimately I’d be left with the same sort of awe that Simmons has when he looks at LeBron and sees a freak that stands so defiantly between all the combinations.
The trebly wobbles of an oscillator that flit across the channels on “Damaged Kids” are truly ridiculous but add just enough cheek to keep interest as the murk below slowly resolves and then eventually revs up into a sludgy guitar riff. Inversely, a guttural synth counters nearly too-delicate guitar picking on “Living Room” in a way that’s almost amateurish but undeniably inspired and effective. Apparently these songs are improvisations “recorded live to tape 2007-2008”; apparently guitarist Mark McGuire and synth players John Elliott and Steve Hauschildt are on some serious Triune zen shit. Devoid of academic indulgence, their record’s a lumbering beast reacting to the action of its growling at its own reflection before realizing what’s actually happening and then playing with that knowledge. And, seriously, each one of these tracks is like a flurry of instinctual impulses sequenced upwards, blooming into cognition. The opener pushes its synth washes into synth chattering that evolves into a sort of binary before joined by wordless human voice, the surprising yet perfect conclusion to asserting that you’re “Alive in the Sea of Information”—though it’s darkly telling that the voice is heavily manipulated or maybe even completely synthetic. In “Disappearing Ink” there are juxtapositions that seem nigh impossible, mutually canceling, or transformative, such as the loud barrage of synthesizer swoops and the tranquil drops of McGuire’s guitar tone, a tone that for a brief passage turns shrill and distorted as it catches the electronic gusts which Hauschildt and Elliot blow at each other. Emeralds seem to show that man’s one point of vocational contact with the sublime (the act of creation) is itself a tenuous point because of its mutability. But more than show this truth, they embrace it. They squeeze it tight. They fucking do it.
Joel noted a bit of an ’09 ambient resurgence in his Mokira review, and if Hecker’s a spearhead for that then here’s another. Honestly, I haven’t heard an ambient record this striking since KFW dropped Lisbon (2006), both no-holds-barred whoppers that are the 100% document to their own 100% inquiry. What Happened is the physical retort to everything so absurdly represented by Fred Willard’s spiked blond hair, a shallow oblivion this record doesn’t debate with but simply gives a thought-provoking kick in the pants. Not content just to exist, to sketch environments, to be purty, this record questions itself into action, asking what mettle is it made of and what is that worth, making those questions the motive for something to prove. What happened? What Happened is this record and this record is not passive. Where much of its genre is happy to sit in place and coolly overlap veils of gauze, this wild thing takes on a form autonomous and thunderous. It moves. It roars. It glistens. It reaches a hand back that snaps forward and slams, as if spring-loaded. There’s chalk in the air, y’all. What Happened might not be the “best” player in this year’s ambient game, but fuck that. MVP.