Sunday, April 19, 2009

Emanuel and the Fear EP - Emanuel and the Fear

Emanuel and the Fear

Emanuel and the Fear
Paper Garden Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

As many of you likely know, yesterday was Record Store Day; a monumental holiday that found me trekking through Metropolitan Toronto’s streetcar and subway systems for free shows and new music. It was a day to celebrate the communal importance of independent record stores… as purveyors of art and culture. It was also a day to reflect on the vital role music – and by extension, the record store - plays in our lives, as few collectors can forget the shoppe, listening post or store clerk who introduced a recording that at once expanded your mind and accelerated your heart-rate. There you stand, sketchy public headphones wrapped over ears, listening intently and analyzing the cover-art as if decoding whether this album is promisingly misleading or altogether life changing. Sampling track by track is a game of patience and concentration; skills I was humbly reminded of when first hearing Emanuel and the Fear’s self-titled EP.

As ‘The Rain Becomes the Clouds’ ushers in with brisk percussion, melodic keyboard codas and orchestral flourishes, one wouldn’t be far off confusing this for a new Postal Service track. Such an energized, full-band opener immediately disassembles for the comparatively stripped down folk of ‘Comfortable Prison’, which stretches with lovely country hues, eventually building gracefully into a string-laden climax that sidesteps melodrama. This track also offers us some breathing room to dissect Emanuel’s vocals, which although lacking a timbre one can immediately recognize, grows more compelling with each side of songwriting shown. His quiet presence in ‘Comfortable Prison’, for example, may have nothing in common with his street performer-inspired bravado on ‘Jimmi’s Song’ yet he pulls off each impressively, his versatile vocals matching the intensity of any style. ‘Jimmi’s Song’ in particular provides the record’s biggest shock, as Emanuel writes a chick-pop tune (think Jason Mraz, albeit edgier), complete with staccato acoustic strums and laidback whistling, only to morph it into a forebodingly addictive pop song about living routinely through anonymity. While I don’t know how Emanuel turns the tables with ‘Jimmi’s Song’ so smoothly, I can pinpoint when it happens; while its first minute is a warm-up nearly begging for “Judas” calls, the next four takes his chorus and anchors it with moods of synth and Emanuel’s best vocal performance on record. That said, I can’t ignore the full three minutes of meandering that takes place once the song ‘ends’, as although I’ve played this song at least twenty times, my I-Tunes Play Count is stuck at three (proof that I skip passed its epilogue on impulse).

Following that centerpiece, Emanuel and the Fear cools off with the slightly overcooked auto-tune of ‘We’re All Alright Tonight’ and a pretty, if immaterial, piano instrumental. Even so, Emanuel ensures that damage is done, that a mark has been left. Through these five disparaging tracks, each executing lofty ambitions and varied genre-staples effortlessly, Emanuel and the Fear can’t be categorized or pigeonholed. It’s a thrilling, unpredictable experience from front to back, and a throwing-down of the gauntlet for any listening-post decoding in your local record store. As curious and potentially rewarding an endeavor as you’re likely to undertake this year.

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