The New Empires’ Self-Titled Debut

Matt Brown and his talented ensemble have created a body of songs both intricate and accessible. – Holly Etchison

Holly Etchison

out of 10

The New Empires
The New Empires
Dec 1, 2011

I’m not completely sure, but I think Matt Brown of the neo-pop outfit The New Empires might be some kind of genius, or at the least belongs in the gifted program. Anyone who writes and composes the ten songs included in their first release (whose tags include baroque, chamber, pop and Chattanooga), AND employs a mellotron in their craft, has my endorsement. Backed with confident musicality from a variety of players and instruments, Brown’s sometimes exuberant, sometimes plaintive vocals imbed their way into the heart distinguishing this band camp release among thousands with an edge of excellence that whispers ‘they got it’.

The first track “Apocalypse” bursts boldly forth with sharp lyrics and frenzied interludes that sound a bit like an ‘80s cop show theme song. The vocals are great (Michael Penn fans might agree) and the breakdown at the end- “Morningstar! Morningstar! Morningstar!”- is intriguing.

“Concerning You and Me” confirms the group’s pop affectations, a little Beatles “Day in the Life” (second half) is heard. “Above My Door” fascinates with spectacular lyrics, a sort of Christmas carol for Passover. “And someday when this firstborn dies/That blood will be life”.

A hymn to making faith your own in a grown up world, “Psaltery” probably belongs in a Wes Anderson film. The lyrics look for answers and lead to questions. More surprises await at the end of “Forgotten Places” (which has some Air Supply moments, honestly) a ballad that suddenly turns into a rock anthem with the singer yelling “We try, we try, we try to get back..Hey!” just like Tom Petty in “American Girl”.

Touching is the melancholic “Brandywine”, especially for anyone who has fled a hometown, or the South in general, and returned to tell the tale.

For you are once again in the Old World
You thought you left it all behind
In ancient history
Remember when you thought that it would be that easy?

A lovely horn section delights.

Equally moving is the album’s folkish closer, “Bristlecone”. Also known as a Methuselah tree, the image of an unchanging evergreen as old as history itself observing man thru the lens of biblical events–the fall in the garden, the suffering in the garden,–standing strong and firm for eternities as a silent testimony, is effective.

Coming away from a few listens I conclude: Matt Brown and his talented ensemble have created a body of songs both intricate and accessible. The bright notes accent the lowlights in a satisfying way. The metaphors and music are simple and profound; they do not leave you empty, but maybe longing for something more: the music has just scratched the surface.