Shedding your skin as an artist can in some ways can be a cathartic experience. For Alias Empire (formely Dry County) this appears to be the case. With a reshuffling of some of the members and a new musical direction, their new LP ‘Focus’ sees the band redefine their sound to great effect.
Their two most recent efforts ‘Unexpected Falls’ and ‘Safety In Numbers’ were much more gritty affairs sharing similarities with the industrial angst of Nine Inch Nails. Their new direction is a more clean cut electronic sound, but one that stills retains a noticeable edge.
All this polish means nothing unless the musicality is there, which it most certainly is. Underneath the synths screens there is always a focus on pushing things musically rather than just sonically. A Fire For Your Work typifies this approach as it boasts a beautiful acoustic core surrounded by a brash electronic exterior.
It’s distant cousin Home For A Week is a brooding dance track that depicts the fallout after a night, as singer Kevin Littlewood proclaims “I don’t know a way from here”. It’s constantly building under this proclamation until it finally breaks loose into a blistering heat.
Littlewood deals lyrically with contrasting themes on the album, as he switches from the personal to cryptic on a whim. On Dead Air in typical Alt-j fashion he talks in shapes as he sings “I’m sleeping because my eyes are tired, geometrically squared but I feel more rectangle.” It’s often only on a surface level, but their are times when whole songs take on this approach.
Reply is a personal feedback loop that gradually shifts meaning as time passes by . The song is at war with itself, as on the one hand it deals with our fragile mortality but on the other it deals with getting better or as Aristotle would call the act of “human flourishing”.
It is this unhinged nature that makes Alias Empire’s music so intriguing, it’s as if they aren’t quite convinced about themselves either. Littlewood’s voice typifies this, it has a listless quality to it but for all the right reasons as it drifts above the music. There are times like on opener ‘Link’ where it can come off as a bit too whiny but this is a minor gripe.
On ‘Focus’ Alias Empire don’t have all the answers to the questions, but they’d rather make a statement than get caught up in the details.