Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - When the Sea Became a Giant Released February 15th, 2007
If any self-respecting indie junkie had the chance to travel back to 1998, they’d most certainly stop by Urbana, Illinois and help work out the differences between Steve Lamos and Mike Kinsella to possibly prolong American Football’s longevity. Arguably one of the better bands to come out of the Midwest during that time, the secluded likes of that humble trio defined ‘melody’ in a grander sense than the subjective journalistic use of the word. Their self-titled full-length remains a work of genius in many eyes as well as a huge influence to those upright few that followed in the Midwest scene’s tranquil wake.
When I was approached by Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate)’s inviting five song EP, When the Sea Becomes a Giant; comparisons to American Football became the initial pallet I used to dictate my stance on this album. Comparitively, the two play with wistfully thoughtful guitar rhythms and discerning lyrical crutches. Granted one track mindsets fade eventually, the Mike Kinsella influence will always overhang these five tracks. You’ll find a semblance to Mineral and The Appleseed Cast as well, but despite reviewers’ attraction to similarity it’s really a fun EP to explore and make your own connections. Empire doesn’t dig deep enough to make this a constant revisit like EndSerenading, but nevertheless it’s a pleasing reincarnation of influences some thought to be lost at the turn of the century.
While I’d normally be eager to express my content in the recreation of proto-emo naivety and experimental excursions, When the Sea Became a Giant presents a few frustrating factors to their somewhat minimalist complex. Initially singer Keith Latinen’s elongated vocals will ruffle some feathers as he comes off like Chris Simpson but slightly mousy and less punchy. In fact, his overconfidence in range leads the song “Lilly, I Have Something Important to Tell You” to be practically impossible to get through as Latinen’s high-pitched whelps become something of a joke at some point. From there, length becomes an issue as “Our Love Has Made Us Pariahs” and “You Have to Believe Life Is More Than the Sum of It’s Parts, Kiddo” are around three minutes or shorter despite their elegant instrumentation hinting at a much more drawn out recital. Empire has the presence of a band that extends their tactful crescendos and mild-mannered instrumental bridges through a longer period of time, but they just don’t use their leg-up on other bands as an advantage; sadly cutting their fledgling song structures too short. These imperfections ain’t got shit on When the Sea Became a Giant’s conclusion: “K.O. K.O.” This song is absolutely gorgeous and thoroughly makes up for the EP’s previous shortcomings. Its mountainous structure speaks volumes on the band’s ability to perfectly place subtle boy/girl vocals harmonies and breezy instrumentals on the forefront of the song’s allure.
Granted this release is underwhelming vocally and instrumentally sentiment, there's just a connection that one can't help but feel when actually listening all the way through. No sporadic peaks in the middle of the album, besides Latinen's decibel level, and not too much in the way of breaking your imminent trance from song to song. These are the baby-steps that will lead to something great.
There’s still a movement keeping alive the lovelorn, the delicate, and the pioneers. Empire! Empire! have the influential reserves and knowledge of keeping alive what our scene has seemingly forgotten. Not only are they stand-ins for the long broken-up, but transcendent of the lo-fi and locally-bound ethics followed so many years ago. Earnest and concordantly so, When the Sea Became a Giant is an engrossing effort that powerfully plays with our nostalgia and unforced love of beauty.