Empire building, one city at a time
Young Empires‘ highly anticipated album Wake All My Youth feels like it's been a long time coming – from the 1980s, in fact. Not that you can blame singer and keyboardist Matthew Vlahovich , bassist Jacob Palahnuk, guitarist Robert Aaron Ellingson, and drummer Taylor Hill, as they've been busy as hell.
Touring and playing gigs with Chromeo, Vampire Weekend, We Have Band, and Foster the People has kept them hopping, honing and polishing their live chops for a good chunk of time. These guys are no strangers to being on the road. They've performed at the Junos, NXNE (The North-by-Northeast Music and Film Fest), CMJ's music week in New York, SXSW (South-by-Southwest Music and Film Fest) in Austin, with stops in LA, Stockholm and London along the way. Young Empires certainly brings that musical energy and those live juices to bear on Wake All My Youth.
The production has an easy, open feel – sugary, inviting and warm. Pulling you in with both hands, much like a giant family-sized Aero bar that you picked up at Sugar Mountain after a 27-hour Pogs marathon; airy but also very filling! (My apologies for the weak analogy. I've totally gone Halloween and thus have candy and sweet goodies on the brain!)
Here is the video for the single White Doves. The song itself, voted # 6 on Sirius XM's Top 50 of 2011 chart, is interactive and a heck of a lot of fun! I must have tried it six times! I won't give the interactive bit away, but it's definitely worth the visit.
The video, set against a gloomy, industrial, factory-dotted background, is an interesting visual counterpoint in mood to the uptempo, joyful-sounding verse and chorus. There's some rich imagery in this video, and the shots of slowly falling photographs, burning as they swirl around and hit the ground, are haunting.
The track, "Enter Through The Sun," with its church-y, Hammond-organ-inspired intro, quickly morphs into a hypnotic, disco-fuelled beat, enhancing the feeling of transformation, escape and immediacy. Wake All My Youth is at times a substantive, jubilant and boisterous-sounding album, vibrant and hooky. Layered with Vlahovich's open, plaintive vocals, with a phrasing and intonation that are not typical of most rock singers. But this isn’t a particularly deep record in a lyrical sense, and that seeming thoughtlessness sometimes detracted from the overall enjoyment of the songs. These tracks are certainly groove-laden and hip-shaky, with an overt 1980s electro-rock influence. (The guitar line at the tail end of "Let You Sleep Tonight" would have easily fit on The Cure's The Head on the Door.)
There are moments on this record that are certainly reminiscent of earlier pioneers in the same field – acts like New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, The Human League, Images in Vogue and other prevalent electro-rock bands from that decade. While most of the songs on Wake All My Youth display a distinct fondness in tone and feel for eighties electro-rock, those same influences also fuel the band’s sincere, unironic and earnest delivery of the material. It's not that Young Empires wears its influences on its sleeve... it's that the band is so damned honest and upfront about the whole thing. And it’s that earnestness that gives the material another dimension and keeps it from devolving into kitsch.
For a band that's really only been together since 2009, Young Empires has managed to carve out a musical empire of its own, and an honest-to-goodness modern-day arts collective. By using a personal label – The House of Young Empires – to promote the band’s own clothing line (T-shirts and sweatshirts made in collaboration with Toronto-based fashion gurus Handsome Clothing), videos and web design, Young Empires is wisely branching out and fully embracing the idea of the brand. These guys are obviously savvy businessmen, and are certainly talented musicians and songwriters, in terms of producing locomotive, danceable songs.This record will make you move your butt. It’s as simple as that. In fact, I can guarantee you, that should you find yourself sitting listening to this record, you will be pleasantly amazed to find that your butt has been dancing without you for the last 15 minutes.
There seems to be a real resurgence lately of bands reviving similar 80s elements, and while some parts of this album didn't quite click with me, Young Empires has put together a hooky, danceable, consistent and solid piece of work.
Wake All My Youth is available through Pirate's Blend Records
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