Jersey City’s Val Emmich is the kind of artist who no doubt thinks it’s pretty cool to be fawned over in the New York Times but is probably way more concerned about what local fanzine Jersey Beat has to say about him. Sure, he called Epic Records home for a spell, but what he’d most likely suggest you check out is “Every Time I Leave My Girl,” a duet he recently recorded with his super cute daughter. He definitely won’t want you to call him a Renaissance Man, so we won’t do that here, even though he’s nailed memorable and recurring roles on 30 Rock and Ugly Betty, and is a novelist whose latest, Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel, is a New York Times bestseller based on the hit Broadway show. Now, because it appears he doesn’t know how not to be busy, he’s put out his 12th album, Tizzy. The first single and video, “Worry,” is here to remind us all that while a creative mind is a beautiful thing, it’s not always pretty.
Do you know what the best part about anxiety and depression is? Nothing. It’s a non-stop hamster wheel of doubt, confusion, and isolation. Emmich’s slow-burn crescendoing sounds like he’s begging forgiveness of his demons. Emmich channels Thom Yorke at his primal, repetitive, paranoid best in this soulful, driving piano rocker. The lyrical rawness on display here would normally be the fodder for a pageful of his reluctantly complicated lyrics, but these feel even more honest in their simplicity. It’s the kind of stranger’s kinship Westerberg offers. The frantic, hammered piano and swooping chords follow a panic attack trajectory, and even the drums sound like they could use some Lexapro. Throughout, Emmich once again makes imbalance irresistible, with his damn near perfect ear for an effortlessly catchy pop song.
Go down into your basement. Lock yourself in there with a toy piano. You, an adult, paint each wall a kindergarten coat-room color — nothing to worry about there. Prisoner Emmich bangs on the tiny keys, unnervingly still, staring through the camera. He doesn’t look well. Director Rob Fitzgerald nails the isolationism and twitchiness of anxiety almost too well. The piano in this room is our narrator’s whole world at this moment – a windowless, featureless cinder block cube, not dank and dreary like some textbook, kinda-sorta nightmare. It’s got all the blindingly happy colors of a real sheet-soaker. Emmich begins to pace in front of his piano, which has “CALM” scrawled rather unconvincingly on its front. Said piano is not long for this world, and he bashes it into kindling. That he keeps swatting at the broken keys and getting way too close to the camera feels like he knows he’s being watched, filmed. Fitzgerald gets the real Val Emmich to reveal himself, especially in that final head-tilt smirk thrown our way, which should make us feel better but might be the most unsettling thing about the entire performance.