Empty Space Orchestra’s self-titled full-length doesn’t unseat Stetson, but it certainly makes a run for it.
The trick with ESO is that they know how to balance their songwriting. If total mood pieces and obliterating guitar work are on opposite sides, ESO is running down the line between the two, grabbing stuff from both sides.
Opener “Brainjar” shows off this aesthetic well, as a patterned riff played by sax, guitar and bass kicks off the tune. Then the band drops immediately into a bass-heavy groove accented by guitar and sax. Then they ratchet up the intensity with some more riffs. Later on, they drop into mood-piece mode, with tons of reverb, rumbling toms and swooping synths. They ratchet up tension throughout the entire section, then sprint the last half-mile to the finish with distorted guitars and charging drums.
All of that happens in one seven-minute tune.
Then they’re off to the races with the Muse-esque piano and regimented snare of “Exit Strategy.” The band doesn’t let up for a minute throughout the entire 50-minute album, which makes this an exhilarating listen. It also helps that their sounds vary dramatically from track to track without losing the overall feel of the work.
The plodding first half of “Tiger Puss” leads up to a mega-distorted guitar tone and riff. “Tennessee Red” sounds like a sludge metal band instead of a post-rock one. Follow-up track “The Hangar” starts off with a European waltz on a piano. Closer “Clouds” is probably the best 10-minute track I’ll hear this year, as it combines all of the things I’ve been lauding into one ginormous composition.
Whatever your complaint is with post-rock (unless it’s “there are no words!”), Empty Space Orchestra has it covered. This is the sort of album that wins non-genre fans over, because the songs are just so good. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it. —Stephen Carradini