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Guthrie's made it abundantly clear through the years that he knows how to create mood through his treated guitar and minimal supporting instrumentation. He did it with the Twins, he's done it on soundtracks, he's done it with Harold Budd....see the pattern here? He's got his formula down, no doubt about it. If you've heard Continental, or Carousel, or any of the myriad EPs Guthrie's released over the past couple of years, Emeralds breaks no new ground whatsoever. There's limited tinkering with the formula - tiny audio crackling in "Radiola", a slow hip-hop style beat on "Warmed by the Winter Sun", the welcome acoustic guitar of "Wishing", and the title track's very nice piano opening - but the bulk of the album follows what's come before. The chord changes, drum patterns, and bass lines are starting to become predictable for me. While what's there is as well-produced as always, the familiarity has begun to take the edge off the thrill.
It might sound like I'm bashing Emeralds severely, but that's not entirely the case for me. While it's true that Guthrie treads familiar ground once again, and is starting to risk becoming repetitive, it's also true that nobody else really makes music like this, and Guthrie seems to be able to do it at will. His instrumental pop is equal parts soothing, mournful, and calming, with an ever-so-slight hint of darkness that's undoubtedly left over from his triumphant days with the Twins. In an industry drowning in over-produced slickness and banality, Guthrie's music has an organic feel that is unique, timeless, and undeniably emotional. His music makes you feel, and feel strongly. How many other current artists do that?
But I must raise the question: what's Guthrie going to do next? Is he going to rest on his laurels and keep supplying us with a stream of admittedly gorgeous but ultimately unadventurous amorphous creations? Or will he step out of his comfort zone and finally try something new? His previous album, Carousel, hinted at experimentation, but Emeralds seems like a step backwards in this regard. Take that for what you will. If you loved Guthrie's past works, you'll love this, without question. See my three-star rating up there? If you want more of the same, and nothing more, it's one of the easiest fives you could wish for.
However, I keep wanting something more, especially from someone as clearly talented as Guthrie. I feel a tinge of betrayal for saying this: Robin, I love you, man, but it's starting to get a wee bit stale. You're a talented and generous guy who keeps giving us gift after gift, but even the best meal in the world starts to lose something after you've had it over and over.
I'll continue supporting Robin Guthrie because I believe in what he stands for, and let's be honest, his stuff is really really good. There's something to be said for comfort and familiarity in our increasingly crazy world, but I'm still waiting and hoping for him to surprise us.