The Emerald Down: Scream the Sound (Saint Marie Records, 2016)
There are some albums that everyone who is a fan of a genre knows and then there are albums that every fan of a genre should know. If you are a fan of shoegaze and haven’t encountered The Emerald Down’s Scream the Sound, you should correct this oversight. It’s an unlikely album given its band’s birthplace is Olympia, WA. It was a hotbed of raucous indie and punk music with no shoegaze scene to be found. The band formed in 1995, about the time the founders of the genre were breaking up and going their separate ways to different kinds of projects. The Emerald Down would not release Scream the Sound until the British press had all but killed off shoegaze in Britain in the early 2000’s. In terms of shoegaze in the U.S., The Emerald Down were trailblazers in the genre, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Saint Marie Records has done all shoegaze fans a huge solid and re-released Scream the Sound, preserving what, for diehard fans, is the triumphant return of an important record.
“Red Shift” opens the album with a high-hat laden beat that leads into spacey guitars that play off one another. Basye and Williamson create dreamy soundscapes with walls of sound and focused chord progressions. Rock and Basye also provide the vocals here as they shimmer amid the walls of sound. The band channels the best of Slowdive with the more driving nature of Curve. Like their predecessors, their vocals are deep in the mix, adding depth and texture to the larger cacophony of swirling notes. Rock’s bass work here is superb and mixed just right with Markin providing a solid and intelligent piece of percussion. “Perilized” is a bass and drum heavy track with the guitars humming about in the spaces. Basye provides dreamy angelic vocals here as her voice floats over the driving, almost 80’s darkwave style composition. The lyrics reflect the mood.
you’re not home
you are stuck on
you are paralyzed
“Choffi” begins as a hum moves through the speaks in stereo like a bee flying around your head. Again, the percussion work on this album is superb and really does create a flavor for each track. Here, there is a marching feel as the snare creates a cadence for the rest of the band to move forward upon. Rock takes lead vocals here with Basye providing light and airy background vocals. The song speaks to broken relationships and the confusion about choices facing oneself after someone has left.
“7am” changes the tone a bit on the album with slightly more subdued percussion and bass. Basye provides her gossamer, angelic vocals as the lead here singing of longing, childhood, and images of missing someone. This is the most “Slowdive” feeling track on the disc and The Emerald Down deliver on every note. It’s patient and otherworldly. “Another Day” almost sounds like it has an electronic beat with keys overlaying it. It’s a whimsical composition with fluttering vocals that levitate on dreamy drones. While I love the guitar tones on this album, I must admit that the percussion and bass work truly memorize me. I cannot really express in writing how much the bass and drums add to the expression of the band.
“Heavier Than Ether, Lighter than Air” has a middle-eastern vibe drenched in psychedelic soundscapes. It’s an impressive ephemeral composition that is ghostlike in its drugged-out haziness. What is even more impressive is the fact that this song was entirely improvised in studio. “Caught a Wave” is another Slowdiveesque track that is beautifully repetitious as it touts its blissed-out sound without reserve. Rock and Basye harmonize beautifully here as they sing about relationships and life journeys, a theme that is the red thread throughout the disc.
I’ll miss you all on my way there
even though you think I don’t care
that this has been so hard for you
well it’s been hard for me too
I have myself to blame
The guitar work creates a sense of shimmering plateaus that move one forward as they undulate throughout. “Recondite Astral Traveler” almost has a free-form feel to it with drums playing little part in the initial moments of the song. Again, this is about traveling and moving to someplace else. “I hit the road and I’m going home, I’ve never been this way before, I hit the road and I’m going home” sings Rock. This is another breathy, patient and slow track that eventually builds to moments that inject walls of sound as guitars sour amid slow-paced percussion.
“Scream the Sound”, another improvised track, is the ninth and titular track. It is more experimental, with the bass and drums playing sparse lines and the guitars acting as drones under a French speaking voice. This eventually turns into a fuller expression by the band as the French speaking voice fades away and Basye begins her hypnotic, psychedelic vocals. Her vocals draw the listener in as she breathes over the hypnotic oscillation of Rock, Markin, and Williamson’s pulsating vibe. The penultimate track is “His Sight Shiny Like Chrome” which moves the listener back into that dreamy shoegaze state as Basye expresses her vocals in an almost indistinct manner, really using them as an instrument in true shoegaze style. “A Minor Crush” finishes the album in a wonderful fashion, highlighting the beautiful drum and bass-work with guitar tones floating about. This time Basye provides lead vocals with Rock providing some harmonizing. As with the rest of the album, “A Minor Crush” deals with relational issues gone wrong. The song is dreamy with a tense tinge to it, creating an atmosphere that suggests these emotional themes.
The new release of Scream the Sound includes a remix called “A Minor Remix (remixed by J*A*L*A*L)” and is one of the better remixes I’ve heard yet. It takes “A Minor Crush” and shapes it with violins and electronic beats. It even has this bossa nova feel at points, emphasizing the percussion and wonderful bass lines in the song. Spacey keys and tones dot the landscape of this deftly created remix.
Yes, Scream the Sound is an impressive shoegaze tour de force but it’s also more than that. It’s a piece of genre history that marks an important piece of art in North American music. Basye, Rock, Markin, and Williamson put together eleven impressive tracks that ought to be absorbed by every music lover. If you want to take a blissed-out, wall of sound laden ride, Scream the Sound is the perfect ticket!
Order Scream the Sound here. (May I suggest the vinyl? It’s glorious).
The Emerald Down Facebook Page.
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