by Parker Brown
In 2008, Empire of the Sun came onto the scene with their massively successful album, Walking on a Dream, which instantly solidified them as the kings of the ’80s retro-futurism niche. Since then they’ve been making waves, touring the world while performing their sophomore album, Ice on the Dune, as audiences waited in anticipation for the next chapter of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore’s internationally famous electronic project.
Two Vines, the third album from the Australian duo, manages to capitalize on the sound that Empire of the Sun popularized six years ago, but unfortunately falls short of doing anything new or experimental. Two Vines succeeds in revisiting the same feeling that their previous two albums have, but nothing more. After listening through this album multiple times, I found myself expecting the build-ups to culminate in more grandiose sound than they actually do. While tracks like “Friends” and “Before” keep the listener in suspense with their gradual synth beats, the songs feel repetitive and similar due to the backdrops of dance beats that are far too reminiscent of their past two albums. Paired with excessively romanticized lyrics like “Take this journey/ Don’t reject me/ I’ll do whatever you ask of me,” it makes for an album that is simply too cohesive, within itself and the duo’s back catalog.
However, without a doubt, there are some shining moments found within the album. “High and Low,” arguably the best track on Two Vines, is a perfect example of the duo showcasing their incredible skill of crafting a great dance track that launches the listener into a bygone time “where the summer and the late nights last forever.” It’s times like these, when Empire of the Sun can capture an idealized and innocent youth, that make the album worthwhile. Unfortunately, by the end of the hour long album, you realized that the whole concept they’ve centered around is nothing more than a far off fantasy that both you and the duo should have matured past.
It’s hard to blame the duo for crafting an album that’s too laid back, given the fact that much of it was created in Hawaii, but most songs feel like they should be the soundtrack to a GoPro video of highlights from your ex’s seaside vacation. On songs like “First Crush,” Luke Steele’s vocals take the wheel while the core rhythms, the backbone of what gave them their initial success, are given the backseat. It doesn’t help that the intoxicating hit of their first album, Walking on a Dream, is featured on the deluxe version of Two Vines. Rather than strengthening their album, adding their best work at the end makes the new material feel subpar and the listening experience is left on a bittersweet moment. I will no doubt be keeping songs like “High and Low,” and “ZZZ,” in my rotation, but when it comes down to it, Empire of the Sun just gave me one more way to revisit the nostalgia of 2008 – when their sound was still fresh and their dreamy synth-pop was a unique listening experience.
Listen to Two Vines: