My thoughts on “SUPER COOL”, the latest EP from EMPiRE.
Release Date: August 5th 2020
1. This is EMPiRE SOUNDS
2. SUPER FEELiNG GOOD
4. I don’t cry anymore
5. I have to go
6. Can you hear me?
There has been quite the flurry of activity in the Idol scene of late, as many groups attempt to salvage what is left of 2020 as best they can. Of course there have been several setbacks along the way as everyone tries to figure out how to run in-person shows during the current circumstances but the overriding feeling that I’ve been sensing over the past month or two is one of trying to make up for lost time. In as safe of a way as is practically possible of course.
EMPiRE were having a pretty solid start to the year, much like most of the WACK properties in fact, before the agency decided to go about as close to shutting things down as they could while not actually doing so. They’ve been keeping busy with radio shows, interviews and other such things but live performances and new music have definitely not been the focus for much of the past 6 months or so.
“SUPER COOL” is EMPiRE’s newest release, which they’re calling an EP but I dunno man. BiSH called a 7 track release (review here) a half-album not that long ago so which is it? Anyway, of all of the WACK groups EMPiRE usually tend to stray more towards the conventional side of things so maybe more of that sort of stuff here I suppose. I also notice a few familiar track titles in here so I have a bit of an idea what to expect already. That said, the group did introduce a few new influences on their last outing (review here) and we are living in uncertain times right now and all that so let’s see what they’ve got going on for us on this one.
Despite its title informing us as such, the EP’s opening track “This is EMPiRE SOUNDS” probably isn’t going to sound overly familiar to anyone who has been following the group for a while. Getting things going with a Club beat and a little bit of distorted guitar to impress that sort of nightclub atmosphere on the listener, and doing so quite effectively I must say. Vocally we get a bit of a Rap style as the EMPiRE members helpfully remind us of the song’s title for a spell as the instrumental begins to gradually build up to something behind them. I do enjoy the subtleties of it but that overall muted treatment of the instrumental here could have you feeling as if you have an ear infection and can’t hear things properly. Then the drop comes in and the chorus brings the track a bit more color than it had previously, along with a shot of energy into the arm for good measure. The vocals rather disappointingly choose to keep reminding us of the song’s title over and over, which does sort of grow on you after a while but let’s be honest this isn’t exactly the peak of Pop song lyric writing here is it? We do get a bit more variety as we progress through the track to be fair, with some quite nice solo performances on show too. It’s just a bit hard to shake that this is a fairly straightforward track both vocally and instrumentally and if the simplistic hooks or muffled club instrumental don’t grab you then there’s not much else here that is going to. I like that it’s as different as it is but they could have fleshed things out a bit more for me.
Up next we have a slightly less new track in “SUPER FEELiNG GOOD”, which was released as a limited time digital single back in April I believe. I held off on reviewing it at the time because I figured it would end up on a release like this and well, here we are. A very dreamy and twinkling, ambient style synthesizer instrumental is how they choose to lead this one off and it’s a bit of a contrast to the EP’s previous track. The vocals are a bit more lively in their brightness and the color of their melodies while still maintaining an appropriately dreamy vibe by way of some well placed reverb. A steady drum machine beat joins the fray after a while and gives things a bit more of a structure and direction which leads up to the chorus where things really start to come alive and the relaxing atmosphere we’d been enjoying shifts to something a bit more upbeat and the tension rises just a smidge too. It seems to be a theme thus far to repeat the track title several times during each chorus, which is fine here but again I feel like I must make note of the fact that there really isn’t a ton to get your teeth stuck into lyrically. Nice change of instrumental direction and “Woo woo woo” sections however. Bringing things back down each time to let a different member or two make their mark on the track with a solo section was a really nice touch though and definitely added to the already quite big personality that the track was presenting. For me a more interesting listen than the EP’s previous song but you are still very much left wanting on the vocal side of things, which is a bit odd for this group.
Despite its title, there’s nothing at all ungraceful about our third track “clumsy” here. In fact it sounds quite methodical and well thought out as the instrumental sets about building up an ever so slightly different spin on the typical WACK Orchestral Rock style. A lot heavier on the wind instruments for this particular outing though it would appear. At least that’s what I think is happening under all of the muffled softness that’s definitely becoming very noticeable and beginning to outstay its welcome with me as we get deeper into this release. I start to like the track even less when the instrumental becomes very loud and blown out just as the first vocal salvo is deployed. It’s not like it’s ruining much more than a typical WACK style Ballad but EMPiRE are a group of pretty good singers and they haven’t really had many opportunities to do that on this release so far it feels like. I do like the emotional intensity on display in the chorus though and even if it does sound incredibly similar to other WACK songs in this style, I can still appreciate a great vocal performance. The instrumental is a little clearer here too but not by much, and there’s this really unpleasant drum note that’s getting hit occasionally that does not sound good at all. Things don’t really improve as the track continues, settling into this muddy, mid-tempo flow with a few bright moments but not enough to hold my interest for any great length of time. This one has all of the trappings of a WACK song for better or worse, if you like the style then you’ll be fine with it but if you’ve already figured out that it’s not for you at this point then it’s a pretty easy skip I think.
Once again, regardless of what the title might be telling us, the EP’s fourth track “I don’t cry anymore” isn’t exactly cutting the most positive of moods as it opens with a fairly downcast and melancholic sounding instrumental. The piano work is still a very enjoyable listen though and really gives some nice color to things as the ambient synthesizers begin to hum into life in the background. The introduction of a drumbeat brings with it the vocals, which put on a very nice performance with lots of clean tones and definitely fits with the overall emotion of the track up to that point. It’s pretty slow and deliberate stuff before a sudden injection of raw emotion leads us into the chorus where once again everything starts to soar and become much brighter. Similar issues with how loud and muddy things have been on other tracks previously featured for me here, but it seems to be the style we’re going for on this release as a whole so love or hate it, it’s continuing. A shame because the vocals in the choruses sound pretty strong, despite the once again lack of any real lyrical content besides the song’s title. I hate to harp on stuff like this but it’s really hard not to notice a theme developing here is all I’m trying to say. Lots of nice instrumentation on this one at least, outside of the slightly too boosted chorus sections, so I guess it sorta depends what you’re putting on an Idol song to hear I guess. Nice enough but could have been pushed a bit further I think.
Next up we return to some previously released material with “I have to go” which originally featured on a limited edition Blu-ray bonus disc with another track we’ll talk about later…or something like that I think. You can read my initial thoughts on both here if you’d like to by the way. It’s pretty upbeat stuff, with a bit of a funky dynamic to things and I still do love that piano work combining with the guitars to make for a very vibrant and warm summer track. A bit more appropriate currently than when it originally released back at the beginning of April. Add in some mildly Chill-Hop inspired vocals and we’re having a pretty good time with this one, or at least I am anyway. At the time this was a bit of a tone change from EMPiRE but in the context of this EP it’s definitely starting to make a whole lot more sense than it did originally in my mind. Still not a huge fan of how the track is mixed during the choruses but I’m starting to sound like a broken record at this point I think. On the whole the track has a really nice flow to it the whole way through and I do really love the energy that it’s bringing to the table too. Several cool instrumental moments along the way also help things along and apart from the mixing thing I honestly find it hard to really say anything bad about this song. It’s nice, feelgood stuff and it’s something that I think we could use a lot more of with how rough 2020 has been so far. Just a bit unexpected for it to be EMPiRE of all people getting the ball rolling when it comes to that but you can’t hate the results that’s for sure.
Given the production choices on many of the tracks on this release, there’s a small sense of irony that EMPiRE have opted to title one of their tracks “Can you hear me?” but here we are I guess. It’s only fitting then that a kinda muffled piano meets synthesizer instrumental is what kicks things off, before transitioning into a slightly more upbeat arrangement once the vocals are ready to start doing their thing. It’s a sort of faux-acoustic vibe we’ve got going on which is a nice accompaniment to what is a slower, singer-songwriter style of Ballad that the EMPiRE girls are performing on this one. There’s a pretty nice build-up to the first chorus, though it doesn’t bring with it quite the explosion of vocal energy that it might have hinted at, still it’s another powerful if not once again slightly pushed to the back vocal display. The instrumental is very bright and continues the upbeat tone we’d been enjoying thus far but not really trying to kick on much further from there which was a little disappointing to me but it’s still perfectly enjoyable for what it is. From there it’s pretty much as you were for the rest of the track, with a few little tone changes and instrumental moments along the way. I certainly appreciate the extra lyrical content on this one but it’s not really setting your imagination alight with the comfortable rhythm it finds and stick with for much of the duration. Still, better than several other tracks featured here though in my opinion.
Closing out the EP is the return of another previously released track. “ORDiNARY” was the other track to originally feature on that on Blu-ray bonus disc that I mentioned earlier, and once again you can read my initial impressions of both here if you would like to do so. More beautiful piano work is a big feature of this track and pairing it with some acoustic guitar really makes for a calming sort of atmosphere before the song shifts into more of a Shoegaze sort of sound as things progress along very smoothly into the choruses. It definitely gives things an extra dimension that is much appreciated, at least by me anyway. Vocally it’s another very clean and natural sounding performance for the most part which is something EMPiRE are never likely to struggle with if we’re being honest. During the choruses we do get a bit more raw emotion creeping in, which felt very appropriate given the fuzzier ethereal nature of the instrumental during those parts. At the time this song sort of surprised me because it’s not the usual WACK style but after listening to the rest of this EP I guess this was just the start of EMPiRE taking a much more different direction than what many of us are used to. In this instance, I would say that the results are particularly positive. Probably my favorite track from this release if I had to pick one.
I honestly have quite a few mixed emotions about this EP. On the one hand, I really do like that they’re experimenting a bit with the EMPiRE…sound (I really didn’t mean for that to be a pun) but it seems like WACK have found a new production style that I don’t particularly care for. There’s a bunch of pretty interesting instrumentals happening, but you can’t fully appreciate them with how muffled everything is. I also feel like the songwriting for a lot of these tracks was pretty lazy when it came to vocals variety or just quantity in general.
None of these opinions really matter in the grand scheme of things though. EMPiRE are a well established group with plenty of money backing them and their fans are going to stick with them through this experimental period anyway, as they should by the way. As for me, I’ll take the couple of tracks I enjoyed from this one and wait and see where we go on the next outing. At this point it’s pretty much anyone’s guess when it comes to WACK after all.