A couple years ago Empires made it to the final four in a contest Rolling Stone held for fans to decide which local rock band should grace their cover. Normally that kind of thing would totally turn me off to a band (though much respect to them for having a loyal fan base) and I wouldn’t bother paying any attention. But, they were from Chicago so I figured I should at least take a listen to their album Garage Hymns. And it’s a good thing I did, because a couple of the songs on that record are good enough to make me angry they weren’t written earlier in my life so I had more time to enjoy them.
Now the band is back with a new EP called How Good Does It Feel, and rather than just a continuation of their previous work they take the music in a whole new direction. Equal parts mid-career U2 and early 90’s Brit rock mixed with some electronic flourishes, they’ve made a record that feels very new but familiar at the same time.
I really like the opening of “Please Don’t Tell My Lover.” I don’t know what it is…a reversed organ or synth riff maybe. Whatever it is, I listened to it like ten times in a row because it’s one of those pieces of music that shouldn’t make sense, but it does. The combination of plucky guitar and groovy bass highlights the unique sound of that short part, and it’s easily the most danceable song on the EP.
I also love that Sean Van Vleet’s voice finds a happy compromise between James Murphy and a more confident Brandon Flowers on these four tracks. Once the chorus kicks in on the opener “Hostage,” you can hear the improvement in the vocals, taking them from good to great.
It seems like they’ve taken a more economic approach to the lyrics this time out, leaving some more room for fun musical experiments. Van Vleet still gets to deliver some gems like this, though: “I can’t understand what’s in my heart/all was bilss, all has gone dark/since I killed my idols, melted down my vinyl/made a black hole to another world, got homicidal.”
How Does It Feel doesn’t come out until next week, but you can pre-order it HERE and it comes with a bonus demo version of the title track. You can also catch Empires on tour in lots of places throughout the summer. Check out their website for all dates and ticket info. They’ll be here in Chicago on June 24th at House Of Blues. You can also find them at Bonnaroo this weekend and Summerfest in Milwaukee on June 25th.