“Tell me we create love in absence while diamonds form from your eyelids,” Empath sing on the third song of their new record, Visitor. It is a follow up to their noise rock album, Active Listening: Night on Earth, a loud, punky, experimental album that at turns makes you feel uncomfortable and transported, with its piercing lyrics and visceral sound. While their last album was a successful group of songs that put them on the national indie map, an album that did not seem to be concerned that everyone would “get it,” this album seems to find them pushing further into the craft of songs with more mass appeal, and in a shorter time.
The average length of a song is two minutes, but they are packed full of sounds, like the closer “Paradise,” with its arpeggiated guitar part that is played at double or triple speed. Catherine Elicson, the master vocalist of the band, recalls for me Thao Nguyen, that other experimental indie-punk voice that has been blessing us with her passion and originality for over a decade. While Thao’s lyrics tend to be pretty straightforward, Elicson’s take a bit more digging.
“Born 100 times / Millions alive will never die / A chill down your spine when you realized you’ve been left behind.” In lyrics that recall for me the Pauline concept of a “rapture,” Elicson sings a song over a break neck beat, about heartache and devotion. “You’re soft like leather in the heat / because devotion comes so easily / in every color you can dream.” Or on the song, “Elvis Comeback Special,” where she sings, “Walk the dog in complete silence / open up and catch the meaning / It’s surrounding you and I’m just passing through.” These are images that mean something specific to Elicson, but which come across as splashes of paint on the canvas, creating an impression that is blurred like a Monet painting, giving you just enough to create your own story or scene.
Their statement of intent helps give us a clue. Like the cover of the album, which shows abandoned spaces that feel lived in, the album is about the space “between” people, and the memories of places we’ve been, they say in their press release. “Warm light on the wall one afternoon / You hear you’re always missing out on something / Hearts on fire in the enormous space around you,” Elicson sings on “House + Universe.” “You’re here til the moment’s passed / only alone by contrast / who’s on your side / who holds more life / as the heat leaves the walls,” she sings on “Born 100 Times.” The walls, which both separate us and hold us together in a common space, remind us of the places that we’ve been and the people that we’ve met. Alternately hold in and let out the heat of the love, in the absence of the people we care about.
More than their previous record, this fits right in with other indie stalwarts right now, like fellow Philly band Hop Along or the less punky Alvvays. Their sound is contagious and replayable, and though the songs go by quickly, they are packed with intricate parts that belie their brevity. If you’re a fan of the complex and melodic, this album might be for you. Visitor is an album by a band that is pushing themselves to create and this album is proof they’re a band worthy to watch.
Order Visitor by Empath HERE
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