They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but what about when you are creating something completely unique? Sometimes comparison devalues a band or song, making it seem like anyone could achieve that sound, because it’s been done before. Other times it highlights how well an artist was able to break through generic barriers. Most of the time though, it completely depends on context. Empires newest LP, Orphan, manages to impress with a well-developed sound that I could compare to countless bands, without losing a sense of originality.
The first thing that grabs my attention upon hearing the first track, “Silverfire,” is that gravelly voice which reminded me of The National’s Matt Berninger. Sean van Vleet, lead singer of Empires and also the owner of said gravelly voice, tends to keep it steady throughout the record, neither straining to hit a falsetto nor attempting to go to the depth of Matthew Dear. That said, the album has many emotional high and low points. Some songs are short and upbeat, like the title track “Orphan,” whereas others are long and melancholy, such as in “Lifers,” one of my favorites. It’s got a soft melody and cooing guitars, evocative of The Shins- even van Vleet’s voice begins to sound like James Mercer.
The most fun on the record is toward the end with “Please Don’t Tell My Lover.” The lyrics are sly and entertaining and the guitar riff is too catchy to not hum along with. Another great track is “Shadowfaux,” which has a very easily digested structure, false ending and all, making it very natural to move your feet. The only complaint that I have overall is its length, clocking in at just under forty minutes. A solid album with the driving drums and guitars that Empires offers should be longer; expand on those guitar solos, give me two final choruses, something. I suppose the worst that can happen with a short album is that you feel the need to listen to it immediately again because you didn’t get your fill the first time around. And such is my experience with Orphan.
Orphan will be out on 9/23 via Chop Shop/Island Records. Visit their website for more information.
Check out their single, “Please Don’t Tell My Lover”: