The short version: The August Empire’s journey into the unknown of the afterlife is melodically pleasing, and the harmonies are on point. Lyrically though, the project is just shy of greatness.
- Favorite tracks: “Garden Of Eden,” “The Afterlife,” “Los Angeles,” “Lonely After All”
- Least favorite track: “Lights Out”
- Rating: 6/10
The long version: For all the questions we conjure up during our lives, the biggest one of all may be, “what comes after?”
That’s a question addressed on the newest self-titled album by the August Empire, a California based band who have had songs appear in television shows such as Night Shift and Teen Mom. While the project features great production and harmonies, the overall lyrical scope can render the album undercooked, making for a nice, but still lacking listen.
The instrumental and production mix across the board is fairly standard, but it’s a formula that’s used in the right way. Most of these songs feature a healthy mix of atmospheric tones and soft piano to carry the melody, with hints of pedal steel and violin kicking in where need be. It’s a tired listen, but in a good way.
Considering the album mainly centers around death and events leading up to it (and after it), this mood of exhaustion pairs nicely with the album.
“Afterlife” sticks out for its moodier bassline, and “Lonely After All” is a different moment entirely – an upbeat dose of soul-meets-rock where member Dante Marchi shows a different side to his vocal prowess.
Marchi, who handles a good chunk of the lead vocals on this album, brings a real depth and sincerity to these darker tracks, selling himself well as a man with no answers. With that said, it’s a moment like “Lonely After All” where he gets to come alive, and if anything, it makes you wonder if he’s holding back in other spots.
On that note, while other member Liz Constantine provides some nice, almost ghostly backing vocals to a large number of these tracks, her main contributions can be mainly overdone. “Lights Out” almost feels like she’s oversinging the piece while “Undertow” feels a tad underwrought.
The project also suffers a little from an undercooked thematic arc. Much of this album shows its characters what death is like, thereby forcing them to evaluate their time on earth and live a better life.
The front half of the album is really where the burn out takes place, with tracks like “Afterlife” and “The Buffalo” showcasing narrators who are left to wander their minds as they figure out where to go before it’s over. It’s a moment like “Lonely After All” in the middle of the album where the realization takes place. This leads to redemption and finding what matters on tracks like “Garden Of Eden,” “Los Angeles” and “Lucky.”
The goal is good, but certain tracks aren’t as strong as others. “Lights Out” feels incredibly repetitive by a certain point, and “Lucky” feels stretched out without the stakes to warrant it. If there’s a common problem, it’s that the tracks could have used possibly an extra verse to tie the meaning together.
Still, with a solid foundation, it’s the execution where The August Empire shine on this album. Vocally, the harmonies are always great, but it’s the way the instrumental and production mixes are used that helps bolster its appeal. “The Buffalo” captures the confusion of not knowing what happens afterward perfectly, with a spacey mix that’s one part delicate and one part uneasy.
The drums are mixed a little too loud on “Deep Blue Sea” and “Garden Of Eden,” but once again the ghostly, atmospheric mixes well. The former track is a murkier proclamation of love while the latter is elegantly executed, with warm tones supporting what’s probably the best track here.
The restrained “Los Angeles” is probably the best track lyrically, with the narrator finally getting his act together for himself and for his loved ones. If anything, “I didn’t stop drinking I just stopped getting drunk” is already a favorite lyric of the year.
The August Empire’s self-titled album is admittedly a tough album to discuss, but it’s an interesting listen all the same. While the lyrical foundation isn’t quite as strong as it could be, it’s the execution where the August Empire really shine, making for a listen that’s captivating, but short and lacking in points.