Empire of the Sun Two Vines(Virgin EMI) Buy it from Insound
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. Thankfully, their lush brand of global synthpop injected some much-needed blissful warmth into the alt-indie world. As the duo release their third full-length album, Two Vines, their formula of escapist electropop makes a welcome return, but is tainted by pacing and writing issues.
Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore, attempting to truly solidify their ambitious vision of a concrete jungle ‘reclaimed by Mother Nature,’ invited some seasoned friends for the ride. Two Vines boasts credits from David Bowie’s Blackstar band members, Wendy Melvoin of Prince’s Revolution fame, and Fleetwood Mac’s pop visionary Lindsey Buckingham.
The fuzzy, melodic sounds of Fleetwood Mac permeate album opener, Before, dissolving into Steele’s dreamlike, layered vocals. A strong start, the duo signals a move from the bombastic, big-room sound of sophomore effort, Ice on the Dune, which drowned out the mellow charm of the band. Lead single High and Low is a powerful parallel of the sheer magic contained in their debut, from pulsing synth to breezy guitar. It’s one of their best tracks in years.
Unfortunately, the illusion doesn't last long. Title track Two Vines attempts to moonlight as a futuristic ballad, but fails to build momentum and lumbers along to seemingly endless choruses of “Show me all the life/Lead us in your wind tonight/Two vines.” After the varied but promising beginning, Two Vines endures a slog of rambling tunes that blend into each other with little for the listener to sink their teeth into, both lyrically and musically. There’s No Need makes use of unusual vocal effects that should work, but sound disjointed against the muddled instrumental. On the other hand, Rise endeavours to inject some life into the second half of the album, but the digitised repetition of “Together we can do it” sounds like Daft Punk gone awry.
ZZZ offers a more interesting composition with tropical influences, complemented by Steele’s unique voice fusing seamlessly with the instrumentation. Closer To Her Door was co-produced by Lindsey Buckingham. While expectations can be unfair, when a pop outfit is tied to a name like Buckingham, it’s only natural to expect big things. However, his contribution is suffocated by the group’s gliding synth, merely fading into the background.
The band have denied speculation that their name is based upon J.G. Ballard’s 1984 eponymous novel, claiming that ‘Empire of the Sun’ is designed to evoke imagery of sun worshipping civilisations and paradises. Tracks like High and Low and Way to Go capture this radiant fantasy, and prove that Steele and Littlemore excel when they resist the temptation to be overly introspective. The dangers of crafting intricate visual and musical landscapes, as is the tradition with Empire of the Sun, are exposed with Two Vines. Getting it right is so rewarding, but it's a daunting task to replicate such a vision on each track. When they fly, they soar. But when their artistic façade fractures, the cracks are just too glaring.31 October, 2016 - 04:10 — Ellis Victoria