Emanuel and the Fear – Listen

Emanuel and the Fear - Listen

I’ll just begin bluntly; Emanuel and the Fear’s new LP, Listen, is astonishing, especially for a debut. It’s a nineteen song suite of masterfully executed pop/jazz/rock with enough orchestral synthesis to make ELO blush. Like so many other examples I’ve heard, it’s an underground, modest record far greater than anything new you’ll hear on the radio.

Formed out of Brooklyn a few years ago, Emanuel and the Fear is an 11 piece combination of modern rock and classical instruments. They focus on “intertwining the modern day pop song with extravagant and complex composition,” including classical composers. They’re influences run the gamut from the Beatles, Beethoven, the Mars Volta, Rufus Wainwright, Ben Folds, the Arcade Fire, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Igor Stravinsky. It’s quite an eclectic drawing board, to say the least.

Appropriately, this nineteen section masterwork begins with “The Introduction,” which features an orchestra tuning up while thunder and rain collide in the background. Finally, the band crash in and play dramatic chords, almost like the overture to a musical. It’s a simple but effective set up, and it segues into the awesome “Guatemala,” which carries a political message lyrically. We can already here the expert musicianship as rock music is combined with classical, complex breaks. It’s a bombastic, brilliant and very unique opening.

“Ariel and the River” has a funk/dance vibe, and it’s catchy and vibrant. Flutes accompany a driving bass riff, and the vocals are powerful and smooth at the same time. The tension filled section of scratching strings brings the Mars Volta to mind. “Jimmie’s Song,” with its acoustic guitar focus, is a folksy ballad about not wanting to mature. It’s a universal sentiment and it’s handled with appropriate subtlety and increasing intensity, still using orchestration to add depth. “Duckies,” consisting of just background noise, is a brief segue into “Free Life,” which beings as simple guitar arpeggio and vocals before other instruments illuminate our ears. The energetic horns are fabulous too.

With jazzy piano, dancing cymbals and adventurous trumpet, “Dear Friend” is easily one of the best pieces of the puzzle. Brilliantly, Emanuel and the Fear venture into a futuristic instrumental section (reminiscent of ELO) for a bit before reprising the actual song. Melodically it’s a highlight too, welcoming listeners to sing along, and overall it carries the same excited vibe as Panic At The Disco’s “Nine In The Afternoon” (if you know the song). “Yo, Jamin” is another brief segue of weird sounds, but inclusions of such moments are what gives the album its character. “Trucker Lovesong” utilizes minor piano chords and odd electronic loops (like The Flaming Lips) to create a far darker entry than anything preceding it. It’s the most dramatic track so far as the haunting narrative of a stalker overtakes us. The classical instruments are used sparsely but effectively, creating a frightening beauty you won’t soon forget.

“Balcony” continues the depressing vibe with delicate piano and strings as another story of ill fated love is told. Eventually the strings swirl and the drums follow lightly, and it’s gorgeous. Bringing back a more full, rock sound is “Whatever You Do.” The female vocals add uniqueness and it’d be a good choice for a single. “Bridges and Ladies” is a piano segue into the acoustic guitar and string coating of “The Raimin.” It’s a low key section with male and female vocals, and it’s a track where instruments come in as it progresses, building to crescendo before ending as softly as it began.

The snapping fingers and whistling give “Same Way” a coffeehouse feeling, as if the singer were on a stage with his guitar as the audience drank and sang along. “Simple Eyes” is another entry with emotionally piercing piano and cello. The vocals come through as if on radio broadcast, and it’s a slow, sparse track. A surprising change comes in the middle when female vocals join the male before taking over for the second half, along with a more jazzy, lounge style. A cello opens “Song for a Girl,” which carries an air of mystery. Once again bombastic energy builds from a smooth beginning, showcasing their great usage of dynamics.

“The Finale” beings as a quiet piano piece before suddenly increasing tempo as more instruments appear, becoming even more intriguing when the female singer belts out a nostalgic melody with ferocity. It’s a track that requires all your attention to appreciate, as not many bands have songs this cool and involving. The fast riff the bass and strings share is especially great. It segues into “Look Ma, The Walls Are Moving,” which is another short excursion of instrumental noise, similar to how Frank Zappa used to experiment on his early stuff. Finally we reach the conclusion, “Razzmatazz,” which reprises the rain from the beginning of the album, bringing it full circle. Then it’s off to more random noise, loops and spoken word, continuing the Zappa influence.

Listen is a wonder to behold. It carries all the innovation and ambition lacking from mainstream radio and MTV offerings, focusing on pure creativity, expert musicianship and extremely diverse sounds. It’s an album anyone with a brain and a love for musical composition and art will appreciate. It’s also the newest example of how true originality in music exists beneath the radar, and you as an intelligent listener must seek it out. Bravo, guys, Bravo!

Check out Guatemala (live)