The new Empire of the Sun album “Ice on the Dune” is growing on me. My initial response is that it felt like leftover songs from their first album “Walking on a Dream.” There was nothing wrong with any of the songs but none of them stood out as great, either. After a few listens I started to think that I was unfairly comparing the two albums. The first album was a lot wilder and daring while the second one is merely subdued and straightforward. Because of this the overall album has a stream-of-consciousness effect. While the songwriting is not as experimental as before it’s adequate. Complicated production is layed over the simple songwriting which demands one listens more closely. Otherwise you might miss something.
When I was in Seattle back in June my friend and I went to a local bar where the bartender was playing the album on the bar’s stereo. It does work well as background music–so well in fact that I didn’t even have any real thoughts on it then. I did recognized Luke Steele’s voice and the band’s style right off. We got to talk to the bartender briefly on the group. He raised the point that one thing that he like about them was that they’re still not huge. He didn’t think he would like them anymore if they were a hit with people he didn’t like.
I found this point particularly interesting because I have often felt that way with my music. I didn’t want music that I liked to be played on the music system at work. It would be mixed in with a lot of top 40 pop songs that I find repulsive both in their musical quality and over-commercialism. Likewise I didn’t want to like a song that I would identify in that category despite the fact that I secretly found it catchy. Can’t I just enjoy a song that I like when it comes on? I’m at work which is an undesirable activity to begin with. Wouldn’t something like that break the monotony?
When it comes to private listening I don’t have any shame. I dispensed with the phrase “guilty pleasures” years ago. I subscribe to an e-mail list for fans of musician Adrian Belew. Once in a while somebody (I believe the moderator) would start a thread of what people’s guilty pleasures were. Somebody quite rightly pointed out that he didn’t feel guilty about finding any sort of music pleasurable. Despite the fact that I make dark music as well as describe myself as a big metal head I’m only just barely a music snob. I can’t stand a lot of commercial radio because of what they represent yet I find a lot of indie rock songs written with the same pep and quirkiness enjoyable. If one was to put my iPod on shuffle one could create within the first few songs a play list of the aforementioned Empire of the Sun mixed with Napalm Death, Beethoven, Miles Davis, The Beach Boys and King Crimson.
If I went to a bar and found a trendy teenybopper getting into a song that I like I can’t complain. They might be getting sucked into corporate culture most of the time but there’s at least a ray of light in the commercial cloud. I try not to fault anybody for their musical taste even if they do like one of those songs that I despise. I am getting tired of people making fun of the music that I listen to. Who are we to judge when it comes to other people’s taste? To be honest I think the new Empire of the Sun album could have a few radio hits on it. I get the feeling they would do better on other continents than this one but they could still get into the rotation of retail music systems. Maybe rock has lost its meaning to some extent if it’s getting played in that setting. Just the same, can’t we enjoy it when we can?