So far this year, Empire of Time is about the closest you’ll get to a musical soul-cleanse. Soft vocals and delicate, beautiful arrangements are the name of the game here, as if Jordan Klassen mellowed out just a little more.
In a few places, the album threatens to become a little too sweet, like in “Light in a Bottle,” but the band’s constantly morphing arrangements keep the songs fresh and unpredictable. There are many great things at work here, from the subtle percussion to the spare but effective keys.
“This Vampire Has Seen Better Nights” is a great use of both the percussion and keys. Before the vocals kick in, the song sounds like it could be something out of Enya’s songbook, but percussion helps it stay firmly in the modern day. Here, Andy Sheppard’s vocals are at their strongest, making this song a remarkably playful entry.
Other times, Sheppard manages to keep his voice to barely a whisper, creating an intimate, vulnerable atmosphere. The title track is the biggest example of how soft he can go; while referencing historical figures like Alexander the Great and Richard Lionheart (backed by just a few strums of acoustic guitar) he goes as quiet as possible, making the eventual transition to something louder all that more appealing.
And the band can go louder, when it needs to. “We Stared at the World” is another song that starts sweetly, all warm guitar, strings, vocal harmonies and synths before the song suddenly explodes, and it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly amps up the energy so much, but it’s undoubtedly thrilling. “Meant For This” has a great structure too, with many peaks and valleys.
The album is at its softest on songs like “A Fine Line,” with just vocals and the odd plucked guitar here and there. The aforementioned “Light in a Bottle” is quite spare as well, but adds some classical piano towards the end.
And of course, the closing song “Lost Boys Choir” has not a single voice in it, and it’s a fitting end—Empire of Time fades into the sunset.
Top Tracks: “We Stared at the World”; “The Things You Want”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)