Sometimes an album jumps down your ear holes and takes hold while other times it takes a few listens to garner attention. The debut solo record from Brad Armstrong (13 ghosts, Dexateens) is the latter and that is a good thing. Unlocking new levels of music like progress through a video game Empire (Cornelius Chapel Records) is an album that is different with each listen. Intricate melodies mix with raw vocals ever changing rhythms and a mix of sounds & fuzz that create a soundscape that is ballsy and diverse. The album is not for the faint of heart because Armstrong speaks his mind with lyrics that at times can be crude but without them Empire’s impact would not be as ardent.
Empire is an unorthodox album that breaks the boundaries set forth by mainstream music. Armstrong is not afraid to step outside the box and embrace being different. The song “Shrines” can’t decide what it wants to be as it meanders in an out of different styles with intermittent static breaking the flow. Once you listen to Armstrong’s brooding lyrics and the song builds to its crescendo it all clicks and is freaking brilliant. Acoustic guitars fool listeners as they wade unknowingly into “Cherokee Nose Job” a track loaded with graphic lyrics about sex, violence and death. When the song explodes into chunky guitar licks and booming percussion Armstrong’s lyrics are hammered home. The beautifully somber “Born Haunted” is an incredible number with violins, acoustic guitars and spacy melodies that accentuate Armstrong’s vocals about a life of despair. As listeners progress through the album something different is waiting around each corner eliminating repetition and malaise you find in many records out there today. As listener’s peruse the songs “Empire”, “School Bus” “Dire Fighters” and “No Vain Apology” they are treated to the perfect cross section of Brad Armstrong’s music offering up some of the most varied songs on the record. From beginning to end Brad Armstrong’s music falls upon a spectrum of “utterly impressive” to “what the hell?” and sometimes all within the same song.
Empire is a record you will not hear played on the radio, propped up by the streaming services nor highlighted by iTunes and that is a real shame. Armstrong has delivered a damn fine record that stimulates all the senses creating a vast range of emotions and leaving listener’s wanting to hear more. It is a record that demands attention so it can unlock its secrets to those that listen letting them see different is not something to be feared. Give Empire a listen, set it aside, then listen again and you will understand why it is such a good album.