Empress – Planless


Combining Empress’ out-of-print debut and the 7-inch EP that followed, Planless is a study in the dynamics of slow-core. Though a departure from the more intense sounds of Boyracer, from which all three Empress members come, this 23-song set holds strictly to its singular vision. After all, that is the aesthetic of slow-core, isn’t it? If so, Empress should be the poster band for the genre, as these tracks don’t stray far from the established target. And that is probably my main qualm with them.
At first impression, lead vocalist Nicola Petty’s breathy whisper reminds one of Sinead O’Connor mixed with former Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker. At any rate, Petty rarely raises her voice to speaking level, instead allowing it to become another instrument in the ethereal mix and rendering the lyrics largely indecipherable. And while that mix of electric guitars, drums, piano, and not much else is generally pleasant and altogether soothing, 23 straight examples of it run a little thick.
That’s not to say that there aren’t single standout moments. “All We’ve Seen,” which seems to use a rainfall sample as its rhythm track, is a nice slice of sleepy pop. “Here It Isn’t” carries on a similar theme with nice organ and strummed guitar. Still, most of this stuff seems like orchestrating a heartbeat to me. Needless to say, when “Bigger Things” kicks in with drums that are actually shuffling beside sliding acoustic guitar, it almost borders on transcendent.
Overall, I guess my problem doesn’t lie with Empress but with the genre of slow-core in general. I appreciate the vision, but it all seems a little cold to me. In the end, it’s hard to get a sense of the personalities at work here, making it hard to make a real emotional attachment to the music they present. To me, good music makes you feel like you’ve uncovered an inside joke. And while I like dreamy pop, I like it a lot more when it doesn’t put me to sleep.