If you bend toward imagined trends and genres, then you are well aware that any gibberish about hypnagogic pop begins and ends with Cleveland’s Emeralds. It is this writer’s theory that the rise of the hypnagogic is simply an extension of or an escape hatch out of the overpopulated mid-decade noise scene that eventually imploded, embraced nostalgia and made music that simply reflected evolved listening habits. Emeralds are a perfect example of this evolution. Where once their synthesized chaos floated as amorphous clouds of mist and haze unable to be penetrated or interpreted, since the release of the mighty Does It Look Like I’m Here? the band has injected a humanness and used mortal parameters that have brought their sound to an apex where the view boasts gorgeous vistas and infinite space. There’s really nothing hypnagogic about it; if you’re sleeping, you’re not listening right. They are no longer faceless droids, instead we now get names, song titles, and hints that they’re just dudes who hang out listening to Cluster boots. And while the members of Emeralds have flirted with different configurations under different monikers and different variations on their particularly potent brand of electronic alchemy (it’s all very confusing to keep up with), now they’re revealing themselves as singular artists, pushing beyond that once shielding obscurity to perhaps lay claim to the hypnagogic myth and simultaneously destroy it with a few deft blows.
Emeralds captain, Mark McGuire, is the first of what looks like many to break out solo and reveal a personality detached from the juggernaut collective. Living with Yourself is a document that embraces those nostalgias, from it’s telling title (an exercise in self-reflection?) to the field recordings of McGuire as a child and the extreme left-turn he takes away from Emeralds, it’s apparent that these guys are well aware of the imposed signifiers that go along with the hypnagogic. McGuire takes those traits and twists them into his own design. Beginning with acoustic strums and calculated arpeggios spiraling upward and around each other on “The Vast Structure of Recollection,” the album is clear and light—the exact opposite of an Emeralds recording. But it’s all a trick. It’s post-post-rock, post-hypnagogic, post-drone and post-ambience. In essence, Living with Yourself is the folk record Emeralds will never make—and never should make—because again, the record is of a singular line of thinking, not a communal event. Instructions ask to “listen with headphones, so you can hear it all,” but these pristine guitar workouts—not unlike a Fahey record or the minimalist journeys of Neu!—speak for themselves. Underneath all of it, layers of buzz, wind, reverb and echo bounce from left to right, up to down, making for a very multi-dimensional experience. Those looking for relaxation might be taking my words too literally, for there is sunshine in all of these songs, a reclined erasure of memory for long contemplative expanses, especially in the bubbling pastoral of “Clear the Cobwebs.” But there are also peaks, times when, such as on the regal “Brain Storm (For Erin),” McGuire brings out the “Jeepster”-sized amps and rattles the rafters.
It’s all a trick, though, a mind game played by McGuire. It’s all a build-up for the finale. The coup de grace of Living with Yourself is the mammoth sprawl of “Brothers (For Matt),” the album ending 10-minute epic that could have Mogwai scrambling for shelter. Even that, though, ends in more tape-recorded banter from his youth, bookending his triumph with a sense of completion, full circles, life-cycles and how he got there. Living with Yourself pushes all the right buttons to trigger those nostalgias, those hypnagogic hiccups we all likely want to capture but can’t because of their flitting nature. McGuire has found the perfect time to release such a towering vision, a time when it sounds like a band such as Emeralds are primed to take over the world, even if it’s just a world they’ve imagined for themselves.
Kevin J. Elliott