Listen, the debut by classical/folk/rock/ outfit Emanuel and the Fear, was utterly brilliant. From the subtly beautiful and frantically intricate orchestration to the gripping poetry and engaging storytelling, every aspect was unique. On their new EP, Hands, the troupe continues to blossom in all these areas, and the result is a short but sweet tease until the next LP comes out.
The mastermind behind the group is Brooklyn native, Emanuel Ayvas. Acting as the guitarist/pianist/vocalist, he is also the main songwriter and composer. Joining him are 10 other musicians whose contributions include drums, cello, flute, trombone, trumpet, and violin. Taking a simpler approach to recording the EP, they wrote and rehearsed the material during their two month tour of Europe last year, and they recorded it back home in only a few days. At less than a half an hour in duration, it’s admittedly less grandiose and ambitious than Listen; however, for its length, it still packs quite a creative punch.
Arguably the best track on Hands (and the best representation of all the band can do) is its opener, “Over and Over.” A flurry of strings and syncopation flourish into a melting pot of harmonica, guitar, and horns while Ayvas’ cool voice rattles off prophetic words. One of the great things about the band is its dynamics; the music and the vocals slowly build from calmness to an explosion of passion, wrapping the listener in exquisite fury. It’s as if Bob Dylan was backed by a full orchestra and explored odd time signatures.
“Vampires” is a more straightforward rocker (although it still includes several instruments) that asks, “Why does everything always have to be about vampires?” With its seemingly unstructured instrumental bridges and social satire, it’s quite interesting. “Purple Sunless Sky” showcases Ayvas’ isolated poetry for its first half. Eventually, his words stop and the music ventures into madness Frank Zappa would be proud of.
Utilizing folk rock as its core, “Meadowlands” begins with glorious strings complementing an affective acoustic guitar arpeggio. Again, Ayvas’ storytelling is as gripping as his music, and the way each instrument is gradually and carefully implemented as the track progresses is wonderful. Hands closes with “Song for the Rain,” and it possesses a great sense of closure and culmination. What begins as another folk tale with touches of orchestration becomes a celebration by the end; the whole band sings together as if at a party, and one can imagine that in concert, the entire audience would join in.
Hands is another exceptional work by Emanuel and the Fear. Once again the expert songwriting fuses with masterful musicianship and composition to form a fantastic whole out of its two unique sides. Ayvas is as skilled with words and melody as he is with music, and with the help of his band, he continues to be an important visionary who deserves widespread exposure and success.