Album Review of Two Vines by Empire of the Sun.
Release Date: Oct 28, 2016
Record label: Astralwerks
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival, Left-Field Pop
It was Passion Pit who noticed that, under the right circumstances, “everything is going to the beat.” Since that 2006 lyric, few bands have pursued the synesthesia possibilities of a rhythmic universe more relentlessly than Australian duo Empire of the Sun. The band’s debut 2008 single, ‘Walking on a Dream’ brought the world into melodic order – a song powerful enough to make the footfalls of daily peregrinations come into alignment with the downbeat. On their third LP, ‘Two Vines,’ the band continues to make glossy retro-futurist pop, creating a world of synthesizers and keyboards that feels both primeval and modern at once.
Now that even Lady Gaga is mournfully hosing off the greasepaint, it’s a joy to hear Empire of the Sun still making unashamedly boggle-eyed, bewigged concept albums. Two Vines is, of course, about nature’s benign-Triffid reclamation of city life. More importantly, it’s about giant headdresses, talking nonsense in interviews, and making music that hurtles towards infinite horizons on hoverboards during a summer’s day that lasts a year (1976, presumably).
By the time many bands get to their third album, they decide it's time to change the formula that got them that far, adding or subtracting this or that until they basically ruin everything. Empire of the Sun don't do anything like that on their third album, Two Vines. Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore seem content to ride their shiny, helium-filled pop balloon until it floats straight into the sun, exploding in ribbons of sparkling melodies, gleaming synths, percolating beats, and man-machine vocals.
Since the massive success of 2008 breakthrough Walking on a Dream, Empire of the Sun have been touring voraciously, gradually floating to the top of the international headliner circuit. The Aussie duo of Emperor Luke Steele and Lord Nick Littlemore aim to solidify that status with Two Vines, their third studio album and follow-up to 2013’s Ice on the Dune. At times, the album comes incredibly close to ’80s soundtrack pastiche (think 1985 cult classic Better Off Dead), especially on songs like “Digital Life” and “First Crush”.
Pop music needs colourful bands like Empire Of The Sun. In the age of social media and all things intrusive, Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore retain a welcome air of mystique. Their colourful, flamboyant costumes, theatrical live shows and songs with lyrics that are often cryptic and at best unclear all add to their elusive nature. Happily third album Two Vines won’t change that perception, and sees little reason for deviating from the tried and tested formula that has served the band so well so far.
It was September 2008 when Empire of the Sun descended upon the faltering indie-pop scene, swanning through their peers with a wave of shimmering, summertime tunes following closely behind them. With costumes of the exotic and mystical dragon slayer variety (see: wacky), they captured the eyes before the ears. It would spell career suicide for any other act.
Empire of the Sun are not a band eager to shake off those Fleetwood Mac comparisons: their third album even features Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham on its closing track, To Her Door. Neither his evocative guitar work, nor the contribution of various Bowie collaborators and Wendy Melvoin from Prince’s Revolution band, stand out awkwardly – rather, they’re all subsumed into Empire of the Sun’s slick, synth-heavy sound. Thus the ecological concept behind the album – Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore were apparently inspired by “a modern city overtaken by jungle, almost like mother nature taking back the planet” – doesn’t really assert itself among the dreamy backdrops.
Less than two weeks ago, Empire of the Sun frontman, the Emperor Luke Steele, strongly hinted at the possibility of his original band releasing a new album in the near future. Even for the most devoted fans of his more folksy freshman outfit, the Sleepy Jackson, it would be easy to forget that Steele was once a member of the modest, Perth music scene. After all, these days Steele prefers to strut around in extravagant costumes as one-half of synthpop duo, Empire of the Sun.
Empire Of The Sun 'Two Vines' (Virgin/EMI)Australian duo Empire Of The Sun major in theatrical sci-fi opulence that sits well in the post-EDM universe, even while still not being entirely part of it. Singer Luke Steele tours the band, putting on lavish shows and usually wearing outrageous outfits; his production partner Nick Littlemore prefers to stay out of the limelight, although his Pnau project achieved a chart-topping LP with their 2012 Elton John collab ‘Good Morning To The Night’. Many of the songs on ‘Two Vines’ are catchy enough to make similar success plausible: the album was recorded in Hawaii at the same studio where Kanye West cut ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’, and Steele has spoken of spending his days surfing and his nights making music.
Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore’s 2009 debut Walking On A Dream commenced with four brilliant tracks, of which “We Are The People” remains arguably one of the finest pop songs of recent years. These tunes, alongside the camp 80s film imagery of the record sleeves and the preposterous live shows, were let down by a lack of truly great numbers beyond that great quartet. This trend continued on the follow up, 2013's Ice On The Dune.
The album was made, in part, in Hawaii. Steele would surf in the morning and retreat to the studio later on. It’s the kind of idyllic setting where days simply just pass by. Unfortunately, too many of the tracks on ‘Two Vines’ do exactly the same..