Review by Blake Britton
We live in a world more welcoming than ever to the DIY mentality. Studios cost money, which a lot of young, hungry artists lack, so it’s thanks in part to the cultural poignancy of platforms like Bandcamp and YouTube that the most interesting artists, the people who are actually worth our time, can not only be heard, but be heard by anyone from anywhere around the world at any time. This, of course, is nothing new to anyone who’s made an effort to stay aware of the music industry over the past couple of years. The music industry isn’t hurting so much as it is regenerating itself; becoming something new again. Lending itself to the needs of the people who are making what’s cool and interesting. That’s just the way the way the world moves: Faster and more efficiently than we. Who needs a big studio when the guy tripping on acid in the apartment downstairs can just as easily get you studio quality sound for a quarter of the price?
But EMPRESS has even cut out that middle man. Santiago Charboneau produced their new album himself in the same basement where the band writes and records. Their debut EP, INK Pt. 1, might be the most fun, hook-heavy, lo-fi garage-rock album to come out of Denver this year. Charboneau and his brother, Xavier, have been working the Denver music scene for two years, undergoing frequent lineup changes, and demoing what must, by now, be over fifty songs. INKis somewhat of a departure for the band; If not a departure, then certainly a self-discovery. The band has had its ups and downs over the course of its existence; experimenting with various sounds with the help of different studios, producers, dive-bars, and musicians (most specifically drummers who lacked the intensity some of the band’s earliest singles needed). With this EP, the band leaves everything behind, saying ‘fuck anything that’s not done the way we want it to be.’ And it shows through the aggression of the songwriting as well as well as the thematic resonance of isolation and escape.
It’s undeniably the fuzzy and distorted production of the record that creates an innocent and childlike counterbalance to lyrics about despondency and coming of age. The album opener, “Places” promises an escape from hum-drum suburban life, and leaving behind mundane trips to the grocery store and the annoyance that comes with living with your parents, for something bigger and better. The album is obviously somewhat therapeutic for its writers. There’s a definite sense of “I need to get this off my chest” resonating through every track. Name-checking Queens of the Stone Age, writing about getting fucked up, being alone, and the inability to free one’s self from the inevitable baggage of adulthood. And that’s not to say this record delves that deeply into melancholy and darkness. Some of these songs are actually downright hilarious and not meant to be taken seriously all the time. Even when the record does get somewhat heavy (thematically or musically), there’s always something bringing back the pop-sensibility; the track “FormlessShapless” being the best example.
INK certainly doesn’t come without its flaws. Not every song excels and not every production choice is wise, but considering the balls the band had to make a record like this, leaving behind everything they’d written, as well as recording time, money, and the countless demos they’d made, it came out about as well as it possibly could have. They recreated themselves and made the best thing they’ve made to date without the help of anyone else. It’s not perfect, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to make you move. It’s supposed to touch that inner-twenty-something that still lingers inside of us. It succeeds on all of those counts, and the band only shows potential for something even better to come.
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