Indie-folkish rock band Silent Cinema broke up some time last year, and the resulting splinter bands are all more adventurous and modern sounding. The pallet of guitarist Matt Glynn’s new Big History relies heavily on electronic drums and synths. And now Empress Hotel—Cinema singer Micah McKee’s new band with brothers Eric and Ryan Rogers— has also made great strides into the present on their new self-titled, five-song EP.
“Bells Ring,” the kickoff track to this inaugural record, features a vocal melody that would’ve fit perfectly into Silent Cinema, a guitar intro channeling Paul Simon via Vampire Weekend, overdriven synth stabs, a thick layer of high-end backing vocals, and deconstructed drums that stylishly stop and start at will, not unlike some of the best songs from Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Near song’s end, ecstatic vocal yelping echoes Animal Collective or early Mercury Rev.
Despite remaining listenable, the second song, “Mach Bach”, with its cool faux-Caribbean guitar line, isn’t as strong, or well- formed, or as catchy. Luckily, this is one of the only moments where it might have benefited the band to figure out who really they are before officially releasing anything.
The third song shares a name with the band and recalls Flaming Lips with nicely repetitive, classily bland female backing vox. A big silvery wave of keyboards slowly washes over the breakdown vocal bridge, almost drowning it in a beautiful way before the whole thing turns back into a pop song.
“Search Lights” is the EP’s best track: a badass, string-driven R&B song with an ambitious bridge pairing acoustic guitar and melodic bleeps and blips. The song is so strong (aside from the line, “Put it on me.” If you find yourself sharing any lyrics with rapper Ja Rule, turn and head the other direction) that once again, you can’t help wishing all these songs were as fleshed out and perfect.
Closer “Here Comes the New Challenger” could also be an upbeat Silent Cinema song, but featuring layered feminine backing vox, electronic drums and other modern trappings. Well done trappings, to be sure.
The group’s first EP is thoroughly enjoyable and artistic, if a little green-sounding. Either way, we—especially those of us who love New Orleans music that sounds more like the year we live in—should all celebrate the arrival of Empress Hotel.