Last week, we asked you, our esteemed readers, to vote on the 10 semifinalists of our “Who Want’s to Be a Queerty Music Reviewer?” contest. This week, you’ll choose a winner from our five final contestants.
For their last challenge, our contestants received an advance copy of Empire of the Sun’s debut album, Walking on a Dream, and were given twenty-four hours to turn around a review. We’ve really put these guys through their paces and any one of them would make a great reviewer, but in the end, it’s up to you to decide. Read em’, think about who you like and make your pick below. Voting ends 12am EST Monday.
Walking on a Dream (Capitol) will be released in the U.S. on April 21st.
Upon viewing the video for Empire of the Sun’s single “A Dream” one may feel they have witnessed the bastard child of Disney after a drunken evening with the film Blade Runner. It’s over the top and feels cheesy due to how serious they are taking it. Yet, this is how the band has presented themselves, as characters taken from a Hipster Olympics’ held in space, dressed up in costumes that are a clash of the Baroque period and science fiction. The music on the other hand doesn’t compare to their over the top images. Not living up to their image doesn’t mean it’s a bad album, it’s just straightforward in comparison.
Taking a combination of electro-pop and psychedelic rock, Walking on a Dream is full of slow burners filled with synthesizers and disco bass lines, only on a few songs does the pace pick up. Keeping in touch with the cheesiness found in the video on “A Dream,” Steel, singing in a falsetto voice that has drawn comparisons to MGMT, delivers lyrics that show they aren’t taking this too seriously (hopefully): “Is it real now when two people become one?”
There are standout tracks such as “We are the People,” and “Standing on the Shore” that will get stuck in your head but it seems EotS spent more time on their image then their songs. If nothing else EotS seem destined to become a hipster guilty pleasure or at least major contenders in the next Hipster Space Olympics.
Dressed like long-lost members of Dead or Alive, Australian duo Empire of the Sun prime listeners for what to expect long before they ever press play: 80s-revivalist synth pop with an edge, new wave that isn’t too dangerous to be sold at the mall or played on VH1. And, for the most part, that’s exactly what they deliver on their debut album, Walking on a Dream.
The production is lush, fleshed out with thick, rich arrangements, as if Tears for Fears had lasted into the digital age. With the first half of the album consisting of mid-tempo dance numbers, the tracks are neither offensive nor very memorable, competently treading a well-worn path. Midway through, though, the album takes a sharp turn with the track “Delta Bay.” The ready-made new wave drum kit is replaced by a four-on-the-floor beat worthy of LCD Soundsystem, and Luke Steele’s vocals shift from melody-driven to vocoder-filtered patter. The track that follows, however, a five minute long instrumental whose lead guitar riff suspiciously resembles Angelo Badalamenti’s theme from Twin Peaks, destroys whatever momentum “Delta Bay” had built.
From there, the album flounders, each song a different genre–one that captures the essence of Prince, another Erasure, later The Soft Pink Truth–never drawing on these disparate influences to create something new or exciting. There’s something to be said for pastiche when it works (Vampire Weekend or Hercules and Love Affair, just to name a couple) but this isn’t pastiche. It’s a mimeograph, somehow the same as but less than what came before it.
Joe John Sanchez III
Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore are no strangers to success. After fronting two successful groups, The Sleepy Jackson and Pnau, the indie-gods are totally over “the band-thing”. That’s precisely why their new project, Empire of the Sun, isn’t a band—it’s an amorphous theatrical experience. Musical silly putty, if you will.
This free-spirited outlook may intrigue theoretically, but their debut Walking On A Dream is consequently incoherent. While the first four songs flow effortlessly as a series of ‘80s-tinged pop gems, everything comes to a screeching halt with the strikingly odd stomp of “Delta Bay”. It’s inappropriately followed by “Country”, a mostly instrumental track reminiscent of “Laura’s Theme” on Twin Peaks. From there, the remaining songs recall everything from Basement Jaxx to Prince’s cheesier ballads, impressive when isolated but collectively failing to recapture the earlier magic.
The psychedelic elements and falsetto vocalizing may elicit comparisons to MGMT, but a deeper listen indicates that the androgynous duo conjure their flamboyant image from older influences. Their mix of outer-space antics, soul searching and appropriated culture calls to mind George Clinton’s P-Funk mythology and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, with pitch-shifted vocals on some songs eerily evoking Bowie’s minions in Labyrinth. But unlike Jareth the Goblin King, Emperor Steele and Lord Littlemore act as benevolent leaders fixated on spreading peace, joy and colorful imagery. As contrived and idealistic as their goals may sound, they resonate heavily in our distressed times, making these boys as close to indie-pop Obamas as humanly possible.
Australia is good for only two things: Kangaroos and Dannii Minogue. However, it seems the country can now add another element to the list: Glam-rock dance-pop.
After trailblazing efforts made by fellow Sydney artists The Presets and Sneaky Sound System in 2008, Empire of the Sun is now charting their way into a reg’lar Australian Invasion.
Luke Steele (The Sleepy Jackson) and Nick Littlemore (Pnau) comprise Empire of the Sun, a glam-dance-rock outfit on the brink of something brilliant. And judging by the eccentric garb the duo dons, the word “outfit” isn’t to be taken lightly–The band’s bringing the Bowie like no one’s business.
Single choices are obvious here, including “Walking On A Dream,” a soothing, synth-fused stroll between Arcade Fire and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
“We Are The People” is another standout; a summery, ’90’s-esque rush of energy recalling Jennifer Paige’s “Crush.” (Remember her?!)
Most of the album flourishes within a seductive landscape of vintage electro-swagger and guitar strums. It’s only on the final moment, “Without You,” that the band teeters too far into nostalgia, playing like the background song from every prom scene in every 1980’s teen comedy–ever.
Still, not everything’s so serious: “Delta Bay” lifts the robot from Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and adds a few hand claps, while the plop-happy “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” and its hook-heavy contents promises to slosh ’round your mind long after the album fades.
So board up the windows and hide the vegemite. The Aussies are coming.
Make-out music must have the right combination of sluttiness and ambiance to work. MGMT, for example, sounds too self-consciously slick to arouse anything but suspicion. Bowie’s too queer (not in a good way), Fleetwood Mac betrays your drug-fueled emotional problems, and Prince’s whoredom will get you slapped before first base. Luckily, Empire of the Sun’s debut, Walking On A Dream, recycles the best of these musicians’ stylings into a playful, unpretentious toybox of dancey synthpop (“Walking on a Dream”), spaced-out ambiance (“The World”), and heart-driving ballads (“We Are The People”). Luke Steele’s nasally, high-pitched vocal loops and Nick Littlemore’s eerie synths and steady acoustics have already helped millions to get laid in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. So if you’re not making out by “Country”, the ambient instrumental midpoint, or “Swordfish Hot Kiss Nite”, a bonkers rap track with nasty 1980’s drum and bass, you’ll know it’s not the music’s fault.
Though this theatrical Australian duo—dressed in cosmic mullets and raccoon makeup—spins seductive songs from retro fare, they make a fun first date rather than a committed long-term relationship; namely because they relive the past without redefining its future. The appropriately titled “Half-Mast” features latent keyboards stolen from Doogie Howser M.D. and ho-hum lyrics (“I’m on my knees and praying… baby please… make amends and I will stand until the end”). Their forgettable finale, “Without You,” will either seal your post-coital drowsiness or sound unfittingly sentimental as your date gets dressed and you finish the remaining wine.
Now, get voting! Polls are open until Monday, Feb. 23rd at 12:00AM.