TWO VINES by Empire of the Sun
Favorite Tracks: “There’s No Need,” “Zzz”
Empire of the Sun is larger than life. Between the ‘80s glam, New Wave-influenced costumes and haircuts, and the beautiful, surreal videos inspired by the power of nature and Japanese Samurai, the Australian duo is instantly recognizable and captivating in their imagery. Even the band’s name is awe-inspiring in its diction, suggesting an almost religious fervor in their music. It would stand to reason that such epicness and power would seep into their music through osmosis, but sadly, no such thing happens. TWO VINES’s material is nowhere near as striking and engaging as everything else about the band.
Much like Coldplay’s A HEAD FULL OF DREAMS, TWO VINES’s most admirable feature is its un-ironic Panglossian nature. There is no underlying darkness or misery to the band’s shimmering synthpop; it is as happy and upbeat as some late ‘90s Europop track. The formula of washed-out layers of synth, manipulated vocals and harmonies, and mid-tempo drum beats that led to the creation of the band’s biggest hit, “Walking on a Dream,” have not been changed at all, leading to songs that are enjoyable in single doses but become monotonous and unfulfilling when combined into an album. TWO VINES is at its best when the percussion has more kick and snap, like on “Zzz” and “The Next Door,” as well as when it offers tempo variation between the verses and choruses.
Besides those two songs, TWO VINES is completely devoid of hooks of any form and ends up feeling like a less memorable and epic MGMT. Every synth and acoustic guitar is so washed out and limp that it feels like pre-generated background music that could be indiscriminately replaced. There are too many layers here for the music to be simple pop fun, and it’s all mixed in a way that combines the various instrumentation into a dull blob rather than give crispness to each element. TWO VINES also completely wastes several high-profile guest artists; Lindsey Buckingham, members of Prince’s The Revolution, and David Bowie’s backing band. None of them are given any room to show their considerable talents, especially Buckingham, with a spot on “To Her Door” that is so processed it could have originated from anyone’s vocal cords.
Speaking of vocals, TWO VINES’s attempts at being a sprawling, gorgeous spectacle or a fun dance record are crippled by them. They are auto-tuned, pitch-shifted, or so digitally manipulated that any personality or connection to the lyrics is eliminated. It is impossible to have fun if the artist doesn’t sound like they themselves are having fun, and when the vocalists sound like a Text-to-Speech app, that’s near impossible. The robotic vocals take away from the bright, sunny aesthetic and sandblast any emotion in the lyrics, though there really wasn’t any emotion in “Together we can do it” repeated eight times on “Ride.”
There is such a disconnect between the lyrics, vocals, and music on TWO VINES. Sometimes the album is trying to make the listener joyfully dance, and other times it wants the listener to sit down and gaze in awe and wonder, forcing the audience into a constant repetition of sitting and standing that doesn’t reward in any way. Empire of the Sun has such a powerful image that they give the wrong impression on what to expect when listening to them. Instead of an epic, gorgeous, experience, TWO VINES is a middling, forgettable album that could have been made by any other indie band grave-robbing ‘80s synth pop. Buy the album for the art and just throw away the CD.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend