Up the Empire, Light Rides the Super Major, 2007
Up the Empire is a four-person rock ensemble and through the introduction of their first big release, Light Rides the Super Major, appear to know exactly where their music niche lies. It is plain to see where this band is going and apparently, in their opinion, that is “Up” and I’m not going to argue.
Track one is a super intro to Up the Empire’s debut—repeating lyrics, a solid pop-beat upheld by handclapping, and a couple well-played guitars—frontman Chris Renn chants “This is it! This is it! This is it!” Is it? In short, Light Rides the Super Major sounds like a production by a college band, but an A+, of course. Not awesomely original, but the tracks are filling—some more than others. Track three, “Sad Sad Shouting,” in particular provided hopeful insight into future Up the Empire works: well produced, catchy, and inspirational alternative rock-pop combo—emphasis on the pop without being too overdone or cliche. At this point, the album is uplifted from more familiar and “safe” music to thoughtful and creative as it transcends to track four, “Careful What You Say”—a softer, kinder song with a bass rhythm that makes you stop and meditate on your day.
The music is upbeat with a supreme blend of hazy, distorted guitars bathed in feedback, occasionally mimicking bands from the shoe-gaze genre. Apart from shoe-gaze, however, Up the Empire matches these classically chaotic and layered guitar pieces with firm vocals, bass lines, and sideswiping percussion that beats between guitars with precision and vigor—generating more universally loved music—easy on the ears and a lot more sociable than most shoe-gaze (make note that this characteristic greatly boosts their “live show” potential—Up the Empire is worthy of snagging a ticket or two).
There is still something kind of plain about Light Rides the Super Major—it took a lot of plays to find an appreciation for the album—it is not necessarily the kind of music you can hang out and relax to. It was unfortunate that many of the tracks were simply less developed renditions of another song on the album (source tracks two and seven, for example) and while there were a few MVP’s, they were stuffed between puff-pieces. During these tracks, the vocals were dragging down the songs, no fluidity and absolutely no range. Heavy guitars and superb musicianship were paired with poorly thought-out lyrics that worked against the music. A little help and Chris Renn’s pipes have a “Dave Grohl” potential; plus, I was more than appreciative of a couple cameo vocalists, such as the short but sweet track, “Starter Motor,” which featured female songstresses Courtney Kaiser and Liz Schroeter’s master harmonization.
*This review was edited by the individual I was freelancing for at the time and several lines about disliking the band were x-ed out and I can’t seem to find the original. FYI. If that’s made things more confusing, let’s just say they are worthy of only dos estrellas (two stars) out of 4 or 5. Jeez.