Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
By now, it’s pretty much impossible to keep tabs on the sheer quantity of material out there related to Cleveland synth trio Emeralds. Whether it’s the band’s five full-length albums, their individual singles, the countless limited-run cassettes and CD-Rs in their back catalogue or the innumerable side projects and record labels from all of the band’s members, the amount of material is pretty much indigestible to listeners such as myself whose first introduction to the group was 2010’s ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here?’ The group’s output is often described as prolific but it’s the sheer length of some of the records that is staggering – Mark McGuire’s various projects have tracks that reach upwards of fifteen minutes, often spread out as double albums, whilst John Elliott’s Spectrum Spools label has put out over 20 releases in its very short history, enough to overwhelm any newcomer with an interest in the group’s extra-curricular activities.
At a mere eight tracks in length, all but one of which clock in at five minutes or under, ‘Sequitur’ seems like the most concise release to come out from outside the Emeralds camp in a while. Steve Hauschildt, the group’s main synthesist, seems to be releasing his solo records on the comparatively slower schedule of one album per year, with ‘Sequitur’ coming a year to the day after his previous, ‘Tragedy & Geometry’. But it’s not just its length that makes the record more digestible – the album itself feels less like the rough jams and experimental loops of many of these other releases and more like a considered ‘statement’ in itself. By pulling instruments in from every decade from the 1960s through to today, ‘Sequitur’ demonstrates a wider sonic palette than Hauschildt’s last LP, particularly in its use of drum machines – the electro thump of the 808 on tracks like Accelerated Yearning are more comparable to Drexciya than the usual suspects of Klause Schulze and Vangelis that overshadowed ‘Tragedy & Geometry’. The eight tracks all demonstrate an interest in melody and pop structure as well as sound, too, and feel as if they have been rewritten and reworked for the record rather than recorded live from an experiment.
On ‘Tragedy & Geometry’ Hauschildt explored the way in which technology becomes more disposable as it becomes more accessible. ‘Sequitur’ has a similar mindset at work, this time with an interest in emulating vocal and choral sounds through synthesisers and the vocoder, exploring the idea that certain sounds, particularly the human voice, carry connotations of gender that affect our listening experience. A degree of androgyny can be heard in tracks like Constant Reminders, in which Hauschildt’s heavily-vocodered vocal plays against a robot voice bassline that sounds like it was cut from Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’, but the complete success of this venture is debatable. Does the knowledge that the music is produced by a man cause one to assign “masculine” qualities to it? Does a track like Inteconnected have effeminate qualities because the synth sounds aren’t dissimilar to those used on a Cyndi Lauper ballad?
Thankfully, understanding the record’s particular conceptual leaning is not essential to an appreciation of the music. Instead, this seems to be just one avenue of exploration rather than a singular, overarching concern. It’s just as well, because the music is often beautiful, with tracks like the overtly new-agey Kept conveying a sense of longing and loneliness through its one-man-and-his-machines minimalism – a feeling that would be lost if the album were reduced to little more than an academic exercise. In many ways, ‘Sequitur’ feels like a companion piece to Emeralds’ recent ‘Just To Feel Anything’. Both records have release dates in extremely close proximity to one other, and both occupy similar sonic territory, but their scope and ambition is different. Whilst the latter record seemed as if it should be heard by million-strong audiences beneath the Eiffel Tower (or its Cleveland equivalent), ‘Sequitur’ is its quiet, introverted cousin.