Empire of the Sun probably made their way onto your musical radar if you heard 2013’s excellent party anthem “Alive.” Accompanied by a strange video that put the band in a space-desert epic—complete with futuristic headdresses and costumes—the song went platinum all over the world. This smash hit came after their excellent 2008 debut Walking on a Dream took home seven ARIA awards in the band’s home base, Australia. If you’re looking for the happy Empire of the Sun that you can blast as you walk through a mystic forest, odds are you’ll be disappointed by Two Vines.
The record’s slower, more sleek tone is set from the get-go: “Before,” with it’s hypnotic, loopy beat and soothing guitar really make you wonder if you’re listening to the same band that’s known for traipsing about onstage decked out in shiny capes. It takes them about three songs to rev up their engines; even then, “First Crush” feels like a throwaway dance pop jam; the band sings “First crush, too much / Special one” and it feels as detached as it does saccharine. It’s clear the band is here to get a party started, but it leaves the listener wondering if everyone on the dance floor is crying. This feeling is best encompassed by the title track, which appears near the end of the album, providing a good beat that’s more dreamy than danceable before the appropriately named “ZZZ.”
There are moments here, of course: single “High and Low” is an undiluted EDM anthem that sees Empire of the Sun in top form, featuring an acoustic guitar line that helps the entire track feel easier to swallow. It’s unfortunate the rest of the record doesn’t follow suit, although “There’s No Need” and closing track “To Her Door,” the latter featuring Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and his legendary guitar, imbue the record with a sexy, slow romanticism that’s compelling enough for you to continue listening to the end.
This is Empire of the Sun at their most polarizing; die-hard fans will want to see the band’s experimenting with new sounds, but casual listeners who seek more of what made their past two records so good will feel isolated by this series of trance-y tunes. If we’re going to compare the songs on this album to their jubilant past work, this is the band going into “third album” mode: reaching for more introspective topics, trying to mix in a more thoughtful sound. For any other band, this might work; Empire of the Sun, however, made a name for themselves as a fun space oddity. The result of the duo’s attempt at a slow-burning, languid record while sticking to their EDM-fueled guns has turned their sound into a cookie-cutter trance record that, despite big moments, is ultimately forgettable.
Two Vines is out now. Watch the video for “High and Low” below.