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May 12, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Album Review: An Emerald City – self-titled

This fantastic EP is the debut offering from Auckland sixpiece An Emerald City. The band describes their sound as a mélange, where “organic instrumentation and sounds of the east meet psychedelia.” The EP itself is beautiful, dark and intense, and by employing an unusual mix of Middle Eastern rhythms and instruments, such as sitar and tablas, as well as psychedelic, reverberating strings and polyphonic time signatures, the EP provides a refreshing and unique take on both world and alternative style music.

‘A Thousand Stairs At Night’, the tense title track of the EP, uses a persistent chorus of violin, guitars, melancholic xylophone and an unrelenting drum pulse to build up into a frenzied chorus. This fades with the introduction of strings, which intertwine to create complex oriental melodies, enhanced by the use of tablas, percussion, and twanging sitars. As the song draws to an end, wailing strings fade to a somewhat fragile, repeated refrain on the xylophone.

The second track on the album, ‘Qing Song’, was used to open Karen Walker’s collection at New York Fashion Week earlier this year. Initially the track has a strong and strict time signature, set by jangling cymbals and thumping drums. As the percussion retracts, guitars and violin soar through melodic phrases, returning to the brooding refrain. This darker soundscape borders on melodic metal at times, but the Middle Eastern lick gives it its own unique touch.

‘Mr Finn’, a softer, slower track on the album, has a mystical, peaceful feel to it. The band utilizes strumming guitar that slips in and out of the time signature which is joined by echoing, ethereal xylophone and epic cymbal rolls, and is egged on by playful and punchy drums. About halfway through, the track has an interesting segment involving a celtic violin solo, evoking traditional Irish fiddle music. It culminates in a final flurry of guitar, violins, and xylophone.

The final song on the EP, ‘A Question’, begins with sparse, echoing strings, which sound like ghostly whale sonar. The melody works itself into a complex web involving repeated chaotic phrases and pyschadelic reverb which ends in a multilayered, lamenting chorus. The frequent use of the pentatonic scale in this track, and in fact the whole album, provides an oriental feel. Soft violin flows throughout the piece, and the contrast between the full and frenzied, and the soft and eerie, gives this track a sense of constant movement.

This EP is a mesmerizing combination of Middle Eastern, classical and psychedelic. Its only criticism would be that it is an intense listen, at times unrelenting. The band has been busy touring this summer, from WOMAD to Soundsplash and Rhythm and Vines, and are definitely headed for big things, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled.

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