I was fortunate enough to have come of an early age up through the ‘80s, the early days of MTV that made me think that everyone in Europe had a Flock of Seagulls hairdo and wore pink eyeshadow and was constantly bombarded by smoke machine fog and pastel lighting. But then when the ‘9os hit and grunge made its way into the mainstream so many of these early ‘80s bands were looked at as being washed up and no longer relevant to the culture of the time.
Some bands managed to soldier on however and kept a steady following and made some pretty impressive records. The Cure come to mind here and rightly so here because the Portland, Oregon, trio The Empty, whether they realize it or not, owe a great deal to Robert Smith’s pet project which has been making angular guitar with doldrumatic electronic undertones to it for some four magical decades now.
When it comes to band longevity The Empty are no slouches either. Sean Dant, Jacob Schmitt, and Bobby Dezfulli have been making their mark on the Portland club scene for over a decade now themselves. Their latest record Moonbather the follow-up to their 2014 breakout record Lost Levels, is full of angular guitars that slice through thick intricacies laid down by the electronic elements to make a record that is both pop and rock that is equally as good for the concert hall as it is for the dance hall.
The band waste no time hooking listeners on Moonbather with the opening track “Shaking Hands (Callow)” sounding a little like The Cure meets The Shins. The song is about as tight and catchy as a song can be while still not sounding like it was written for such a purpose, rather just serves to show the natural songwriting talents the band has learned working together for so long. Further evidence of this is how effortlessly they slip into the sleek dark pop a la Interpol on “Come on Come Back,” and then slow down the tempo and up the electronic elements on “Inside Edition” which slowly drips into a dark drone rock masterpiece.
Later The Empty loosen the reins even more and opt for open experimentation like on the watery sounding “Driver” and the lucid and sprightly synth-pop of “Nobody Knows,” and then slipping into the haunting noise collage of “Speaker of the House” which resonates with echoes of latter day Portland emo vets Sunny Day Realestate.
Despite my allusions to other more well-known musical acts of the past few decades I should note that these allusions only serve as a reference point, a place to start off from. The fact is that Moonbather is the culmination of many years’ worth of tireless work by The Empty and it is a record which is wholly original and another landmark for band that continues to experiment.
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