Empath - Active Listening: Night on Earth - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Empath - Active Listening: Night on Earth

by Tim Sentz Rating:9 Release Date:2019-05-03
Empath - Active Listening: Night on Earth
Empath - Active Listening: Night on Earth

To the uninitiated, noise rock is just that – noise. There’s a quote from the 2007 film Juno that I’ve heard regurgitated over and over again ad nauseum; the main character played by Ellen Page states to Jason Bateman after an uncomfortable moment “Oh and ya know what? I bought another Sonic Youth album and it sucked. It’s just noise.”  This is pretty much the response given for a lot of noise rock, especially as the genre has taken a dive in recent years with countless imitators refusing to expand their sound.

Except… Juno’s wrong. Noise rock is anything but “just noise.” And Empath, the Philly foursome who popped into the scene last year, are here to usher in a new wave of appreciation. With their debut LP Active Listening: Night On Earth, Empath position themselves at the forefront of the genre’s reinvention. By incorporating more than just the average instrumentation, Empath breathe new life into a genre that had grown slightly stale.

Birds. So many birds. But the bird samples that start the album’s opener “Soft Shape” set the tone incredibly well for the next 27 minutes of blistering noise pop. Singer-guitarist Catherine Elicson’s endearing vocals paired with the rolling drum pounding from Garret Koloski magically feels like the start of Summer. It doesn’t stop there either, they launch into a Perfect Pussy-nodding “Pure Intent” and Elicson changes direction, with a guttural punk snarl. Even if Empath fades into oblivion like so many before them have, Active Listening is still a landmark noise rock album. Pairing the bright and sunshiny vibes with crushing punk blows feels so natural here on “Pure Intent” – it’s legitimately astonishing that it can come across both spritely and emotive by the instrumental finish.

“Hanging Out of Cars” is the centerpiece to Active Listening and one of the best tracks thus far from Empath. It’s everything you will love about the band. A fun, quickly enjoyable punk song, with a warm bridge and distorted guitars courtesy of Elicson herself. Keyboardist Emily Shanahan never feels like an afterthought either, her keys are part of the allure of Empath’s sound. It’s telling how an album as brisk and carefree as Active Listening can use so much talent consistently, in such a highly powerful groove. Even the synths provided by Randall Coon are felt throughout Active Listening, just improving upon Elicson’s riffs and laced punctually on tracks like “Rowing.”

Active Listening is far from “just noise.” It employs a delicacy that’s rare for the genre. The natural elements feel infused with Empath on their debut, something that I felt was missing a bit on their breakthrough EP from last year Liberating Guilt and Fear. Active Listening expands on that release, proving that Empath aren’t one-trick noise makers. “Nothing changes where you’ve been,” Elicson trails off on “Décor,” and it’s accurate. They’ve come from all parts of the country, and it’s culminating in one of the best noise rock debuts of all time. Following in the footsteps of the noise rock pioneers of the 2000s like No Age and Times New Viking. That lo-fi production gives the album a volume that leaner production hides – it’s almost as if you’re there in front of them as they perform the album in an abandoned barn.

Whether Empath can keep this locomotive running at full steam moving forward is obviously too early to tell, but with their debut LP, they’ve exceeded expectations beautifully. Active Listening isn’t just another basic noise rock record, it shows true progression from the genre’s early stages, and instead of rehashing old gimmicks, Empath build off that groundwork, and have assembled a modern classic for noise rock.

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