It seems that the one trend in atmospheric tweaks that never dies is the background handclap. I imagine that this had some sort of ironic attraction in the past decade, but since then, the hip crowd is more inclined to party than ever thought possible. I recall my best friend from college being able to follow the clapping on a Q and Not U record without missing a beat. So it’s no small thing that, along side some wind chime-like jangles and some feedback, the rhythmic hand claps strike without shame, like a suburban delinquent throwing a brick through a teacher’s window in the dead of night.
The tired sonic cliché aside, Up the Empire doesn’t flinch in churning out the eccentric hooks and melodically pensive vocals. The album gives off the mental abandon of slackers who chase their pot with Prozac. Songs have a clear, pepped tempo that lets the good times simply roll. Their ability to write coherent songs, sweet songs while managing to be collaborative at the same time is an achievement in itself. It’s as if the members are having a conversation through their instruments and their writing; ideas are tossed all over the place and seem to find the right spot with other ideas.
This concept makes the music seem more alive as opposed to a more straight-laced, but nonetheless hip sound like that of Interpol. Influences range from British post-punk, melodic ’90s alternative and some folk and a little stream-of-conscious jamming which seems to run its course through the music as well as the words. This of course gives songs an individual existence from the others. “Careful What You Say” is by far the most melodic and straightforward in which a solemn, minimalist guitar takes hold over the noisier atmospherics in the background. This is followed by “Stars at Noon,” with an indie take on rock distortion and arena reverb, not unlike the aforementioned Interpol in some ways. “Keep Wasting Your Time” could pass for a Yo La Tengo basement-recorded B-side.
Despite the uniqueness of these and other gems littered throughout the album, it’s all unified with minor ambience blips of noise and electronics, which, though not unheard of in this kind of music, are used when they work, just as everything else on the album is used. Up the Empire seem to simultaneously obscure and emphasize the collaborative nature of their creative process. They all seem to know each other’s abilities and their individual imaginations. It’s not often that a four-piece band with three members taking vocal duties can be able to manage their sound and still keep it together.