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Album Review
The Fourth

The Fourth
by An Emerald City

Banished From The Universe

Review Date
2nd March 2011
Reviewed by
Ricardo Kerr

In 2009 New Zealand’s best kept secret was out of the bag with the release of An Emerald City’s debut album Circa Scaria. It was an intoxicating mixture of psychedelic jams, space rock, and Middle Eastern grooves. It is a concoction as magical as the band’s name implies and after a stint in Germany they have recorded and released their highly anticipated follow up, The Fourth. All of the familiar elements of their previous album and EP are present – sitars, violins, tribal beats, overdriven guitar noise – but with the incorporation of some new textures and the increasing presence of electronics ‘The Fourth’ is an entirely new animal.

Ebb and flow is the key to the composition of these songs; how the individual musical elements peel off, stripping a song down to its rhythmic soul before rushing back with a vengeance, swelling beyond their constraints into reckless abandon. First song ‘B31’ is a warm up for the mystical journey that lies ahead for the listener. The cleanly picked guitar lines are counterpointed by a mournful violin and powerful synth washes to exhilarating effect. The anxious keyboards of ‘Seizuretron’ twitch and writhe out from under the muscular syncopated beat. These first two tracks alone set the stage and prove that there is a lot more going on in The Fourth than either Circa Scaria or their self-titled EP. As great as those were An Emerald City is a band that is moving forwards and carving their own path.

The title track oozes with eccentric confidence rarely heard since the heyday of 70s prog rock, a combination of the lush keyboard textures of Yes and the explosive drumming of Rush. This is no mere imitation but the synthesis of an eclectic array of sounds to create something daring and new. Another pleasant surprise is the slinky minimal funk of ‘Key to the Kingdom’. It is a great example of how the slight rearrangement of their ingredients can yield surprising results, allowing the bass to dominate and drive the song. The last few songs are very jam oriented numbers, layered and dynamic, that call to mind travelling through grand mysterious worlds, especially the pyrotechnics of ‘Casual Encounters’ as it winds its way toward the end of the album. These songs beg to be recreated and performed in a live setting as they are first sketched then fleshed out into works of sonic beauty. And beautiful is an apt description for this band and this album in particular. Even when the music is at its most intense there is an underlying sense of awe and wonder about it. By the end of the album the music has receded back into whatever portal of time and space it came from.

The success of The Fourth hinges on the fact that while the band is employing many different instruments and effects the overall sound is never unnecessarily cluttered or too busy. As with a lot of instrumental music this album is designed to be heard from start to finish not callously cherry-picked by playlist junkies. Without traditional choruses and pop music structure the tracks tend to bleed into one another which is entirely the point. An Emerald City make music that is an awe-inspiring fantastical voyage and this is one ride I would not miss for anything.


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