Empires’ “BANG”

“All of BANG is a sweet exercise in going loud and creating vehement music, without having to scream on every track.” -BY

Beth Yeckley

out of 10

March 9, 2010

The word “anthemic” has been used continuously to describe Empires latest album, BANG, and with good cause.  The Chicago quartet is led by lead singer Sean Van Vleet, whose energetic vocals bring quite a bit of excitement to the table, offering a mix of near-screaming spread over background ooing and aahhing and melodic invitations to belt out a few lines with him, too.

“D*mn Things Over” is, in my humble opinion, the poster song for this album.  This song is instantly contagious, and even if you want to walk away from it, the first line will be on your mind days later singing, “Give up the whole d*mn thing’s over.”  Vleet’s vocals start off akin to Brandon Flowers from The Killers, introducing a persona (vocally and instrumentally) that is intriguing, not whiny, and totally capable of taking something serious and making it sound vibrant, alive, and yours for the taking.  Where some in the post-punk/ rock genres may strive to create a rise out of their audiences with ruthless guitars and edgy lyrics, Empires actually get you to experience all the layers of this anthem song.  You could easily find yourself tapping your foot to the drums, dancing to the whirling guitars, or (although cliché) pumping your fist to the words, “If there’s a hell for lovers/ And that’s where you’re gonna be/ I can be hell’s lover boy/ You can stand right on my feet/ At the top of our love/ Stand at the top of our love.”

“Bang” is dirty, fuzzy, raw, and I find it impossible to sit still through this song.  Vleet’s vocals get a little reckless here, like someone’s voice gets when they’re upset—a little shaky, a little drawn out, hitting high and then bottoming out at times.  But they fit the mood of the song, which feels like a Saturday night at a venue with packed bodies and dirty floors covered in spilled drinks (the kind of night that might have you considering throwing away your shoes the next morning).  The drums are able to penetrate through his screaming and the fast guitars, which really helps to increase the energy in this song.  It’s melodic, yet gritty; it clearly carries a well-established tune without any homogenous fluidity that might create a calm sing-along.

“I Know You Know” finishes up the album, and although at first it’s a hard listen, by my fourth and fifth pass it becomes a comfortable song.  It’s tough at first because there are so many things going on—Vleets vocals start out softer, so the guitar layers grow heavier and more prominent, and the addition of ethereal ooohhhing in the background almost overshadows the lyrics.  But once he takes control of the song, it’s hard to ignore what he’s singing, “I know you know that I love you/ All around the room/ And I’ll dream all night to touch you/ The way I do/ I know you know where I am/ When we lose eyes/ You can feel me more than I can/ Just leave your life.”  The song wraps with an extra dose of drums and the backing vocals echoing the lyrics rather than competing with them, bringing the album full circle.

All of BANG is a sweet exercise in going loud and creating vehement music, without having to scream on every track.  Empires has created a soundtrack to fighting, loving, dancing, and getting your back off the wall without compromising quality, solid arrangements, and highlighted instrumentation, both in solos and in the overall support of the vocals.  The lyrics are not endearing, but they are relatable.  There are surprises on this album, found in harmonizing bits that can sweep you off your feet and a constant cohesiveness to the whole thing.  I’ll easily be rocking this album through summer and into fall.

–Beth Yeckley, June 15, 2010