Empathy Test: Monsters

Newest release from British electronic indie soul Empathy Test has once again hit the mark and rocketed beyond it. Isaac Howlett, Adam Relf, Christina ‘Chrisy’ Lopez, and Oliver Marson have tapped into a world brimming with tension and isolation to strike a chord with beauty. This follow up to the 2019 EP Empty Handed is a creative stride forward as well as a more complete offering. Also this record was crowd funded and done totally DIY. For this highly anticipated album I thought it might be fun to pull in a few or our writers and get some different perspectives on how Monsters effected us.

https://empathy-test.bandcamp.com/album/monsters

 

First Impressions:

Ken – This album has crisp body moving drums. Smoke slithering synth lines that build castles which sparkle. What really strikes me is how easily I forget all the layers and textures. Just to zero in on the singer/songwriter core of these tracks. The power and familiarity of the lyrics. The way the songs would be great songs on an acoustic guitar, or with a full band . It’s hard enough to achieve one or the other, when both happen at the same time in isolation it’s a powerful magic.

Damien – I was hooked on this record within seconds. The vocals are absolutely beautiful and I don’t know if I have ever loved the way drums sound on a record more than I have on this one. It felt like the ether reached out to me with this record, shook me around and said you need to have this record in your life. 

Katy – This album is a synthwave banger from the first smash on the drums. The amount of energy behind each note is enough to power a city. This album is cinematic without being a score. I love it when an album creates vivid imagery with sound. When I listened through this album, I kept imagining myself in a world lit up like “Tron” but inhabited by the beings of “Labyrinth”. 

Technical Feel:

Ken – Dare I say masterful mastering? The vocals on every song just ring in such perfect clarity. They sit on the front of the mix perfectly without seeing where they end and the music begins. The percussion really changes the tone on each song. Those snares are crisp. Really effective use of marching cadence and rarely used beat patterns. They synths are vibrant like watercolors behind a character. 1st rate execution.

Damien– The drums on this whole record sound huge. From start to finish the percussion drives this whole record. The vocals sound perfect. Layers are added and subtracted with precision. I particularly love the way instrumentation swells in this record to slowly build transitions so the feel as huge as they sound. 

Katy– The mixing and mastering of this album is incredible. The amount of dryness and saturation creates such an emotionally evocative feeling for each song. The amount of reverb on the vocals and instruments creates a constant hugeness that they’ve perfected. The beats used are addictive.  You won’t be able to sit still. The synths used throughout have such a classic synth-pop sound that is much appreciated. It’s utilized so perfectly to create the feel and carry the song with seamless flare added throughout. I love it when a band uses electronic drums and live drums. This is top-tier and perfectly synced up. 

What did it make you feel:

Ken – This one really took me on an adventure. I had highs, lows, moments of doubt, moments of elation. It had hooks, and had that shake that ass factor. I think more than anything this record made me feel in on a secret. It’s very personal yet easy to access emotionally. That true inspiration of an indie album. Something to share that you know everyone would be into, but they aren’t in on it yet, and you are.

Damien– I felt motivated when I heard this record. I’ve been wrapped in my own material for the last week nonstop and as soon as I heard this I felt like someone set the bar. The lyrical content is exceptionally potent and the way the drums, bass and synth all come together sent me back to the drawing board eager to step my game up. This is a masterwork, if you’re an aspiring artist or a casual listener this record is absolutely compelling. 

Katy– This album is relatable in content and driving instrumentally. It made me feel like I wanted to dance and move while contemplating my relationship, my friendships, society, and more. There were things that are so hard to say that this album dictated so perfectly. It’s got tracks you can blare from your boombox on someone’s lawn if you want to make a statement about love. It’s got tracks that make you want to get all sweaty at a rave during. There are some songs you may want to listen to alone in your room with the lights off. There are even some songs great for road-trip playlists when you want to get hit with waves of beautiful sounds. 

Monsters:

Ken – Opening the album with the title track and those powerful snapping snare hits. I’ve felt the daylight creeping in, and thought maybe it’s time to go. The vocals are elegant and cutting. When the chorus drops it’s a smashing wall of sound done with driving weight instead of distortion. What a strong way to open a record.

Damien – THIS IS HOW YOU START AN ALBUM! This track absolutely slaps. It reached through the cosmos and grabbed me. I knew I was in for the full ride this record had to offer within seconds of  hearing those drums. This track absolutely slaps. It is quite possibly one of the best side one track one’s you’ll ever hear and I’m willing to be the test of time will side with me on this one. This track absolutely slaps! I honestly felt floored it hit me so hard.

Katy– First track and I was sold. I needed to hear more. I needed to know what this band was all about. The tempo of the track is a fast-paced stroll and the initial feel is like it’s the perfect track to walk around on a sunny day and feel awesome while listening to. When the vocals start, my heart absolutely melted. The story is about having the “monsters” creeping back in and sensing that it’s having an effect on whatever is happening in the story pushing the storyteller to feel compelled to leave. It’s something that is so relatable and so real. I agree with Ken. This was a strong start to the album that kept me thinking well after the track ended. 

Doubts:

Ken- This song transports me to a place. The image where this conversation takes place Then those drums take a marching cadence and build “There is no substitute for love, no feeling tell me when you’ve had enough” This is a great song for showing the synthesis Empathy Test achieves. Pulling from familiar sounds that are far from each other and blending them in ration to create a fresh idea.

Damien– The beginning of this song is downright ominous. The ebb and flow of the synths and drums take me to a dark place emotionally when it comes to love. This track reminds me of times when I’ve been upset with a lover and felt confrontational about it. Somehow still lusting for them despite the agony they were putting me through. Desperate to resolve conflict find a passionate embrace but not being satiated or satisfied. 

Katy – I love this track. Ken said it best. When you listen to it, you’ll be transplanted to a place and tells a story with its instrumentation alone. The drums start as a march guiding you to a lonely sounding chorus. When the drums come back in during the second verse, they have a tribal feel that made me feel like I wanted to dance with my entire body at a rave. I kept having this mental music video playing those drums would kick of sweat and fire and strobes. I love it. 

Empty Handed:

Ken– I love when a song tells me a story. This track feels so full of narrative. The vocal lines stack on top of each other expertly. The continuous synths ringing like bells to create movement. This track is a gentler one pulling back the tension.

Damien – I love the slow build of this song. I can honestly feel the animosity build slowly through vocal delivery and the urgency of the drums. As The Duchess already commented on, this song very clearly tells a story. It’s a story of scorn, lament, and anguish. Lyrically it feels like narrator was used and through the course of this song is slowly beginning to realize it but they’re not the type to just let it go.

Katy – This song is incredibly visual with the lyrics and the story is haunting. Instrumentally, the song is perfectly orchestrated to carry the story along. It’s mostly minor with arpeggiators adding to the rhythm that conveys loss and obsession. The drums and rhythmic synths gave me nervous energy. I felt tense, but not uncomfortable. 

Incubation Song:

Ken – Sweeping gentle builder that resonates waves until the vocals fill the space breathing and warm. Asking to be obliterated and made new like a phoenix. I like how it never stops growing, just expanding and becoming larger.

Damien – This song has a more sunny disposition. It is very aptly titled as the song begins slowly and blossoms. The way the vocals are delivered, particularly when she sings “consume me” leave me longing to be devoured with affection. The hook is downright intoxicating. I love how the last chorus builds into an absolutely mega instrumental section and then slowly lets you go at the end. It’s done in a way that makes you want to listen to the track all over again.

Katy – This song makes me swoon. This track is uplifting from beginning to end. It keeps building into this huge, beautiful, orchestral piece until it ends. I loved this track because it’s chorus is such a great hook with such a positive feeling behind it. The way it’s sung is enough to keep it stuck in your head for days, but the words won’t be escaping my mind anytime soon. 

Skin: 

Ken – I try not to do too much comparison to past bands. However this track in particular has such a vibe of Radiohead “The Bends” which I consider one of the most important of the 90’s. Not so much the sound, although there is a bit of that. It’s the soul, the isolation, and the introspection. Capturing that very human aspect of being more than one thing at a time. It lends an honestly to the song. The insecurity, blended with a courage. This was the track for me I just couldn’t let go of. Maybe it speaks to my current isolation.

Damien – The open progression to this song is absolutely gorgeous. The drums are a constant thumping rhythm that cascade beautifully with the lyrics until that subtle rest when the song transitions. The way the instrumentation drops out in this song in sections really make it feel absolutely epic. It builds slowly until a climax at the end and fades out beautifully. 



Katy – This song makes me think of a dreamy place with 60’s go-go dancers. The synths are light and airy, but the drums make you want to dance. It made me feel like I was at a party in a cloud. The vocals have a kind of romance behind them, but convey a relatable story about having a hard time in your own skin. I love it when songs have a feeling that leans one way, but vocals that tell a story that makes you feel the opposite when you really hear them.  

Love Moves:

Ken – Not sure if everyone feels this way, to me, writing a genuine love song is the hardest thing to do. To not sound cheesy, or forced. The beauty of this track is striking. It really seems to dance on the edge of the razor to pull it off. Plus it’s such a pretty song.

Damien – The first word I can think of with the starting feel to this track is sultry. It elicits low-light imagery of two slightly sweaty bodies eager to get lost in each other. Lyrically, this one seriously hit me in the feels. I’m always a zero to ninety when it comes to matters of the heart. Without question this song absolutely nails the feeling you get when your soul cosmically binds with another. There’s a twinge of melancholy in the track that leads me to feel that this is just as much about losing that love as it is experiencing it. Sheer perfection. 

Katy – This song starts and has a sexy vibe to it. This dream-pop song is a banger with a slower tempo and an overall blissful atmosphere. The synths and drums provide an optimistic feeling behind a heavier underlying theme. Though the song isn’t meant to be sad, it feels very much like a direct message to someone saying that love moves. It chooses a pace and moves forward, it changes locations, and sometimes… it changes its intent. 

Closing Thoughts:

Ken – I’m pretty staggered by this record. I listen to so much dark music now a days and this whole record felt fresh. It’s expertly done from a production stand point. That’s not what really sold it for me. It’s the song writing. I really feel like you could play these songs in any style imaginable and they would stand up. In a world broken down into tiny boxes and genres, these are just good songs. So i feel pretty confident saying no matter what your preferred sound, you need this record.

Damien – I’m absolutely shook. Every so often I get hit with a record that just feels important. The last time I felt this with a record was with the Japandroids “Celebration Rock” in 2012. That is of course, not counting every Noel Gallagher release that makes me feel that way. This is going to be my top contender for album of the year. You can feel every track. Everything sounds amazing throughout the whole record and you can tell that this is an artist’s labor of love. 

Katy – It’s hard not to get hypnotized by this album. I can’t tell you which track is my favorite because I can’t choose. There were so many aspects of this album that I really enjoyed. I’m a sucker for a good synth-based dream-pop album, but this album is like the gold standard for the genre. 

 

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