Empire of the Sun made a name for themselves off of their strange and experimental visual appearance. But instead of taking similar risks in their new music, their third album is more of the same.
Although Empire of the Sun was born as a side project of The Sleepy Jackson’s frontman Luke Steele and Pnau vocalist/producer Nick Littlemore, they found themselves catapulted into the electropop limelight after the release of their 2008 debut Walking on a Dream. However, their sophomore release, Ice on the Dune, failed to match the charm of their first attempt. With their latest project, Two Vines, the duo has fallen in step, honing in on the fun of their first release but failing to grow beyond its pop melodies and chords.
Taken for what it is, Two Vines is an enthusiastically engaging listen. Some of the album’s best songs are its singles, especially “High and Low” which drives home the duo’s ability to act dynamically, switching up a song for an unexpected and fantastic result. Beyond the singles, there’s still content to love, including a surprise feature of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham on the record’s closer “To Her Door.” His vivacious guitars blend almost perfectly with Empire of the Sun’s synths and piano.
Diving further into the confines of the track list, it’s easy to see why people love to see this group perform live. Their songs transcend traditional EDM, adding instrumental depth to the often monotonous formula and continuing to engage with an aesthetic like no other. During the press for this album, Steele said, “We’re just going deeper into paradise,” — a perfect summary of what Two Vines has to offer on both the musical and visual fronts.
Like many electropop releases, however, there’s a good amount of repetition on Two Vines. A couple of times, eerily similar chord progressions popped up pairs of songs, and although they lasted for only a few seconds, dedicated listeners who want to hear something beyond pop melodies will be quick to point out these moments as lazy or uninventive.
Two Vines is the prime example of a perfect one-listen experience. It sticks to the band’s tried and true method of making music, adding occasional additional instrumentation and slight variations in an attempt to draw in new listeners. But, to expect anything beyond catchy chord progressions and heavy synths would be futile.
The issue with Two Vines and Empire of the Sun’s music as a whole is that they’re falling behind. Electropop is one of the fastest growing genres in music today with artists such as The Knife, Sufjan Stevens and Fever Ray leading the way to bring their sounds to the mainstream. But with all these big names breaking out, Empire of the Sun feels like a B-list band amongst a list of heavy hitters, failing to expand their brand beyond a surface-level emotional depth.
As a side project, Empire of the Sun wasn’t built for growth, yet it’s hard to see them release music within the same purview over and over again. This was their chance to experiment in a collaborative effort, but instead Steele and Littlemore squandered their opportunity, finding themselves in the same spot they were before. For fans of the group’s formula, you know what you’re going to get with this third release, but it’s unlikely that Two Vines will attract new listeners to the band’s already well-known sound.
Empire of the Sun