An album that has a high level of alteration put into it—synth-laden vocals, electronic effects, trumpets and strings—often results in chaos. Shimmering, vocals-obscuring production can blunt the point of the music’s ability to emotionally grab. That’s not the case on Caveat Emptor, Brooklyn-based Empty Chairs’ November 5th release. Although the new album emphasizes a kind of floating and dream-like ambiguity of intent, this somehow does not detract from the powerful connection forged with the listener, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly why that is.
The vocals, from the very beginning of the first track, demonstrate a yearning, loving vitality. The earnestness of singer/guitarist Peter Spear’s voice harnesses the often-obscured lyrics, cool, delicate detachment of the synth lines, and soft-landing drum beat into a sound that’s focused and emotive. This isn’t to say the vocals overcome an otherwise cacophonous record, though, because despite the fact that Empty Chairs incorporate a large instrumental scope into their sound, all the various lines within the music seem to work from different angles towards a common goal: deliberate chaos.
Each song begins with a set of rhythmic samples, gradually stirring in different elements as the melody repeats. But, since the album takes place on a wispy, dream-like plane, the dynamic range necessary to accommodate this kind of repetition is not present. There is no underlying driving power to kick up the intensity of the music’s progression as it cycles along, leaving the tracks to just sort of hang for minutes, suspended in time. Within a greater dynamic spectrum, this could be mesmerizing.
The last of Caveat Emptor‘s ten tracks, “The Night Sky Becomes An Ocean,” hints at this expansion of sound: the string section builds the song to a wondrous, cinematic head, and a corresponding warmth of vocals comes across earnest without seeming too navel-gazey. Including more tracks like this one, and slimming some filler in the repetitive sections of the songs, would have added depth to an already emotive collection.
Check out “Caveat Emptor” here via Soundlcoud:
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