Review Summary: Similar in sound to MGMT, the comparison between the 2 duos also holds to this debut album being an unapologetically hit and miss affair that contains 3 excellent standouts.
Timing can be everything when it comes to music and it can often be a two-edged sword. For example; an artist “ahead of their time” might be viewed positively by critics, but negatively by record labels that would prefer albums to be sold now! Another instance of this phenomenon is when one artist breaks worldwide, just before another similar artist records an LP. The positive here is that the initial band opens up a larger audience for the next… The negative is the perception of being a copy-cat and not as groundbreaking as those who came before them.
To say that Australia’s Empire Of The Sun bear similarities to the “IT” band of 2008 - MGMT - is an understatement. Firstly, they are both duos who do not exactly dress like the average person would. More striking though is their musical common ground since they both perform electronica-laced psychedelic pop that is synth-heavy but includes portions of both electric and acoustic guitars. Yet, for the Australian duo, it is simply a meeting point of the collaborator’s main bands; Luke Steele’s The Sleepy Jackson and Nick Littlemore’s Pnau.
The similarities between the two artists do not end there however, since a common criticism of MGMT’s ‘Oracular Spectacular’ was that it was front-loaded and had three great songs plus a bunch of filler. In all honesty, the same weakness can be pointed at Empire Of The Sun’s debut full-length release ‘Walking On A Dream’. Considering that ‘Time To Pretend’, ‘Electric Feel’ and ‘Kids’ were all prominent on many ‘Best singles of 2008’ lists, one feels that the only reason they were not joined by the 2 lead singles off ‘Walking On A Dream’ was because of the home country of both bands.
The title track and lead single here may be simple to the extreme, but it has an instantly likeable groove that ingrains itself in the mind with a nice dynamic between Steele’s distorted and falsetto vocals. Arguably bettering such a terrific song is the not entirely dissimilar 2nd single ‘We Are The People’. Containing acoustic flourishes, the greater length of this track allows the superb falsetto chorus payoff to be held back on (approximately at the 90 second mark) for additional effect. The bottom line is that if you liked MGMT’s singles, you should also like both of these.
The two other cuts included within the opening quartet of tracks on ‘Walking On A Dream’ are both perfectly acceptable, especially the effectively semi-haunting atmospherics of opener ‘Standing On The Shore’. However, from track 5 onwards, Empire Of The Sun are unlikely to hold the interest of many listeners as they go over the top and practically lose the plot. The rot begins with ‘Delta Bay’, a horrible mess that comes complete with unintelligible vocals. It is then followed up by ‘Country’, which is an instrumental piece that has similarities with Angelo Badalamenti’s ‘Twin Peaks Theme’ and would have made for a nice little interlude, had it not become tediously overlong as the duration stretches past the five minute mark!
While the remaining four songs all contain glimpses of something worthwhile, three of them are pretty much filler. Thankfully, it pays to keep listening for ‘Swordfish Hotkiss Night’, which arguably saves the album. A funky cut that is one-part dance-floor anthem and one-part hip-hop piece, everything just gels on this track. From the numerous vocal techniques used to the multi-layered musical components, it all comes together so impressively that it surprises that there is only one such song on here. Of course, as you can imagine from the odd title, the lyrics are pretty strange and sci-fi based, but that is pretty much the norm throughout the LP (possibly excluding the corny love-song closer ‘Without You’).
When all is said and done, ‘Walking On A Dream’ is an almost unapologetically hit and miss affair which clearly shows a huge amount of potential for what would seem like a natural pairing. Precocious, ambitious and definitely zany, Steele especially allows his personality to shine through on the project. When they are on, they are very good, as their relaxing – yet strangely dance-worthy – grooves seem almost effortless. Yet, way too often, the duo simply bite off more than they can chew, meaning that when they are off, a 2nd listen almost seems like a chore.
Recommended Tracks: Walking On A Dream, We Are The People & Swordfish Hotkiss Night.