Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bursting the Bubble of After Forever's "Emphasis"

Driving brings a feeling of being hermetically sealed off from the outside world, and I can’t think of anything that contributes to this sensation more than the car stereo.  The stereo shifts perspective from “being-on-the-road” to “being-in-the-car.”  It masks the acoustic workings of the car itself and the road that it drives on while providing the illusion of a much different surrounding space than is physically present.  With all of the flatscreens that increasingly hang on virtually every flat surface I encounter in public and at home, sometimes it seems like a small step to convince myself that the windows are projection screens and that what it happening through them is not “real.”  This bubble provides the illusion of privacy while your anthropomorphic car is your stoic familiar: your mechanical representation to the outside world.

There a bit more freedom to connect with music in this hurtling sanctuary, expressed in forms that vary from the innocuous singalong to the acrobatics of air drumming (always popular with your passengers).  This sort of grooving would be taboo in public, which makes it unique from earbuds and even home stereos.  This cocoon of mediated music can bring life to the dreariest tasks.

Like yesterday morning:  I was I was out of gas and out of time and desperately searching for a gas station.  After Forever’s Decipher provided the soundtrack for this search, and transformed my anxiety into determination.  After Forever (who disbanded in 2009) was a “beauty and the beast” symphonic/progressive metal band, coupling death metal growling with female leads.  Musically, Decipher is an engaging and expansive listen, but by far it is Floor Jansen’s vocals that take center stage.

For quite a few years, the standard vocal approach for progressive metal was operatic, and sometimes the resulting melodrama was difficult for me to stomach.  This style is more palatable in its female form, however, and Jansen nails it.  Even more impressively, she also has a straight-ahead rock approach that rivals the best of Pat Benatar.  Her command of this stylistic spectrum is masterful, in my opinion.

The way in which she navigates these vocal approaches is more emotional than formulaic, and the structure of Emphasis maximizes the power her delivery.  The way in which the band plays with half and double times throughout the song also indicates an innate knowledge of tension and release, and bringing the keyboard intro back at the end effectively bookends the piece superbly.  Considering all of the components of the song, it could potentially fall apart from lack of cohesion.  Aside from Jansen’s soaring vocals, the glue that holds the whole thing together to me is Andre Borgman’s energetic drumming.  Making effective rhythm changes like these is in no small part the responsibility of the drummer, and his melodic approach smooths them over with precision and confidence.

And it was my fascination with these parts that burst my privatized music bubble.  I often “air drum.”   There, I said it.  In fact, “transcribing” what hand is doing what with what drum, what the left foot is doing, etc., often raises my appreciation of a drummer’s work.  When Emphasis came on, I was enthusiastically doing just this while singing along (to the best of my ability - not for the faint-of-heart) full-blast at a stop light, taking in the bodily implications of the parts.  Then I looked over to see another driver chuckling at me knowingly.  I sheepishly grinned back and lowered my hands in slow motion.  After what seemed like and interminably long light, I escaped and ultimately triumphed by hitting the rewind button and starting all over.

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