The Art marks this Irish act’s sixteenth release – an admirable feat made more impressive since the album itself is a rather accomplished take on synthpop sensibilities. Never before did it actually occur to this writer that this particular genre is undergoing a renaissance, but the recent abundance of similar quality ventures casts a shadow on Empire State Human’s offering, rendering it only above average. It is this “above,” however, that should hint at The Art’s hidden supply of pleasurable sounds; derivative pleasures, of course, but pleasures nevertheless.
What distinguishes this latest effort from a band that is best known for the last studio release Audio Gothic from other similar acts is the explicitly humane nature of exclusively electronic music. Tracks on The Art are at once wonderfully dramatic and filled with bouncing electro. Aidan Casserly’s vocals on composition’s like “My Passion” potently merges feminine and masculine qualities, creating a satisfying and mysterious ingredient. As if Joni Mitchell herself sang some of the parts on “Apollo,” the vocals are a melodic and enthralling counterpart to the jazzy texture of the music. Even tracks like opening “Killer In Me” that carry in themselves a dark, shadowy core are to the same degree enlivened and illuminated by the cheerful underlying current made up of elevating beeps and vocals. The music never reveals its calculated, coldly binary nature and Empire State Human successfully infuses its style with just the right amount of passion and heart. On “Cry for Love,” cheerful electronica is juxtaposed with ersatz acoustic elements and the dominating voice of Casserly in unison heralds The Art’s commitment to heightened melodrama.
Like some other recent synthpop releases, The Art is also plagued by the same inherent limit of tone and style. Empire State Human is positively romantic and, to an even greater degree than contemporaries like And One or De/Vision, resurrects the new romantic spirit. Their album, however, lacks any truly accomplished tunes that could punctuate and break the otherwise monolithic structure of the whole; something that elevated albums like the recent Colorblind from Twitch the Ripper. There is a steady and uninterrupted stream of aural pleasures flowing from within The Art, but no one song manages to make a long lasting impression; a shame that greater since it appears to be pop’s inherent quality to be able to limit its appeal effectively and channel it into brief four minute long tracks that encapsulate the totality of artist’s style. “Love Is a Shutter” and “Easy Colour” are probably the most successful attempts in producing a memorable single, but both somehow fall short. While the former contains a well arranged chorus, it is the latter that showcases a memorable musical hook; neither track brings the two together, therefore denying The Art an effective, evocative track that could embody and promote its enjoyable stylization. This extends to the fabulously corny “Apollo” that should have been trimmed and condensed for better effect.
Empire State Human’s The Art is not quite the crème de le crème of the current crop of synthpop releases, but its appealing mixture of cheerful melodies and affectionate vocals paired with crisp sound and technical proficiency renders it a tempting alternative. If you are an aficionado, you will not be disappointed, but if you’re only just beginning your voyage with synthpop, there are better albums to get you hooked in.
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Damian Glowinkowski (DamienG)