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Emanuel and the Fear – Listen
Emanuel and the Fear
Listen - Paper Garden Records
Genre mashing can be a dangerous game. While the prospect of taking the best of juxtaposed influences sounds enticing, without a firm understanding of what makes each genre tick can result in a forced or ingenuine sound. So how to prevent such missteps? Well, we need look no further than indie upstart Emanuel and the Fear’s debut full length, Listen. The Brooklyn, NY eleven-piece draws on everything from world music, electro-pop, classical, jazz and even the big band era for what can only be called a near-orchestral experience.
Normally when commenting on a project this size I praise a band’s ability to act sparingly – rather than just playing every instrument at once for a sort of filterless spam-fest. But Emmanuel and the Fearsomehow finds a way of harnessing the entirety of their musical arsenal while still maintaining coherence. One of the first tracks, the politically charged “Guatemala,” builds a Middle Eastern soundscape using various traditional stringed and wind instruments affront thunderous electronic backing beats. A brass section chimes in suspensefully as frontman Emanuel Ayvas passionately speed talks his way through an ever-increasing list of global injustices. It serves quite the captivating start.
Next comes “Ariel and the River,” which again finds the band realigning influences for something equally as jolting. Here the band comes across one part orchestra, one part elecronica, with a result reminiscent of underground electro-rock staples The Prairie Cartel. But Listen also features some low-key moments, the highlight of which can be found on a re-recorded version of “Jimmie’s Song (Full Band Version).” While the original version, found on their self-titled EP, defined itself acoustically, the new version moodily integrates instruments like bells, violins, and their always-inspiring brass section. Despite drawing upon the band in its entirety, the track retains its solitary delivery, atmospherically aiding Ayvas as he ardently insists “I don’t wanna do nothing but be in a rock band, I don’t wanna get a job, I don’t wanna be a man… I don’t wanna do nothing at all…”
As the album progresses the focus changes and content darkens. Eventually the big band and orchestral influences find prominence, giving way to what might be comparable to a tragic Broadway musical. “Trucker Love Song” and “Balcony” provide melancholy love ballads, while those like “Whatever You Do” emit rare moments of optimism. Those hooked on the band’s first few tracks might find the 1930’s-esque New York City narrative initially off-putting. Even so, I imagine that once the immersive plot picks up (somewhere around “Whatever You Do”), most listeners will embrace the transition. Assuredly, this is deeper than your typical bait-and-switch.
Over the past decade New York has become a veritable playground for ambitious troupes of underground showmen. Gogol Bordello’s gypsy antics and The World/Inferno Friendship Society’s legendary cabaret performances instantly spring to mind. With Listen, Emanuel and the Fear stand poised to expand the NYC movement into the broad indie spectrum. At over an hour the album at times feels like an investment, but for those entertaining a sustained, close “listen,” there’s nothing to fear.