From the moment Electric Empire’s eponymously titled debut album starts, it’s clear that you’re in for the ride with a group steeped in classic soul. Wearing their influences on their sleeves, the Antipodean trio (Jason, Aaron and Dennis, who play drums, keys and guitar respectively, in addition to sharing lead vocal chores) have provided a set of consistently strong songs delivered with passion, soul and impressive live musicianship.
The album kicks off with the first single, Baby Your Lovin’, a riff on Al Green’s classic Hi Records era. It’s a track that has justifiably found favour with much of the soul cognoscenti on this side of the pond and sets the album up beautifully for a trot through genuinely organic soul. The album’s predominantly a relaxed affair save for a couple of tunes including the album’s second cut, the driving Have You Around. This jazz-funk fuelled track features keyboard player Aaron Mendoza on vocals, featuring a dreamy and subtle keyboard solo. Brother dips its toes firmly into Talking Book era Stevie. There’s little doubt that Stevie’s shadow looms heavy over the whole Electric Empire album. Some critics may view the preponderance of Stevie-styled cuts as simple pastiche, but I would argue that the songwriting, musicianship and production are so strong that, although comparisons are inevitable, the album stands alone as a compelling collection of timeless soul cuts. Indeed, I’ve always been of the opinion that Stevie’s unique take on soul music actually created a genuine sub-genre. If you accept this idea, then Electric Empire can be enjoyed on its own indefatigable merits.
I Just Wanna Give It is another sweet concoction with a stirring arrangement and warm harmonies that recall Let’s Get It On era Marvin. Life Again is a reflective ballad with deep roots that wouldn’t sound wholly out of place on my favourite Stevie album, Music of My Mind. Then It’s Over begins in a reflective mode before moving the groove ever higher, clearly demonstrating the group’s harmonies and coherent musicianship. Everything I Am is a romantic slice of stirring soul that’ll warm the cockles of any hardened soul fan that bemoans the current state of contemporary soul music. Because of Yesterday is a folk soul ballad with an engaging lead vocal from guitarist Dennis Dowlut. Its only crime is its brevity. Little Things is a beautiful jazz ballad that sums up all that is right about Electric Empire: romantic and stirring lyrics, subtle yet impassioned musicianship and warm vocals.
The band’s sound panders to no trends and thus succeeds in creating timeless soul. The album initially came out in 2010 and is only just now finding a life away from the band’s native home. However, the quality of the songwriting suggests that Electric Empire could have been recorded at any time in the past forty years. The band have worked hard to produce an album that doesn’t sound like the over-produced pap that often passes for soul and R&B in 2011. Modern equipment and production techniques undoubtedly place the album in the here and now, but the guys must be congratulated for attempting to produce an album that transcends eras and undoubtedly captures the essence of early seventies soul.
The album’s penultimate cut is the Latin-fuelled joy of Always, a cut that features each of the band members on lead vocals. Throughout the album, Jason, Aaron and Dennis each contribute lead vocals to a number of cuts. Despite this, the album is a unified collection, illustrating Electric Empire’s coherence as a band. There’s both a generosity and humility at the heart of Electric Empire, clearly illustrated by the ability of each of the members to lead tracks vocally without ever stealing the show and deviating from the band’s sound.
Wrapping things up with the more bluesy Love, Electric Empire is an album that deserves to be in any serious soul aficionado’s collection. I’m intrigued to hear how the band will develop their sound but, for now, I’m content to wallow in the warmth of their old school soul.
You can purchase Electric Empire right here. Go on, you know you want to!!!!