I was finally able to give Empathy Test's debut 4-track EP a proper listen. But before I dive into reviewing their work, I'll say I've never been a fan of synth-pop, electro-pop, or whatever you want to call it. Before buying and loving Chvrches debut LP last year, I owned exactly one synth-pop album, Yaz's Upstairs at Eric's (Yazoo for you Brits). Something about the style never felt right for me, read on.
In my impressionable teenage years, the 80's in Alabama, it was uncool to like that style of music. It's not that we were surrounded by barefoot inbreds strumming on banjos, we just were insulated from that style of decidedly British music. Guitar bands ruled the airwaves, and electronic music was tucked away in the dark corners of late night MTV programming. However, groups like The Cars and Duran Duran who combined elements of synth-pop and guitar rock were championed, and two of my favorites. Sure, an occasional song from Depeche Mode, Human League or OMD was fun, but, overall it was all a passing fancy.
Now, it's a different story, I don't care, if it sounds good, I'm listening to it. I'm more open to many styles of music I overlooked in my younger years. And that leads me to Empathy Test, I enjoyed their debut track from the outset, actually startled that they were an unsigned band. Here is my review of their EP, Losing Touch.
From the first few shadowy and swirling seconds of the opening track, Losing Touch, it is clear that Empathy Test has done their 80's homework. Sonically, right in line with anything from the period, yet polished enough to distinguish itself as a player in this generation's latest wave of re-imagined synthpop. Adam Relf's synthy soundtrack provides Isaac Howlett with a backing track he was made to sing with, his voice moves from detached and cold, to desperate and lost with relative ease. The unsettling gloominess of Losing Touch is the draw, but his true vocal mastery is when he reaches higher, providing much needed urgency and contrast to the track.
While I enjoyed Losing Touch, Last Night on Earth is the strongest track from the EP -- a surefire hit. Great vocals and a synth beat that beckons from the dance floor, the urgency of those long lost teenage years are on full display here, because back then, and only then, did dancing to something so reflective seem so natural. As I listened, I couldn't help think it would be a perfect addition to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack almost 30 years later.
Overall, a earnest effort showing incredible promise from an unsigned band. Their next true test, translating the energy to a live show. Can they do it? I'm anxious to find out.
Go, listen on Soundcloud, close your eyes, get whisked back to the 80's, love it, buy it. You won't be sorry.
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