Review by Kimmi Watson

Out today, Empath‘s second album Visitor – inspired by the scores of Nosferatu and The Wicker Man alongside David Bowie’s Low and forever favorites Fleetwood Mac.

Philadelphia’s indie-psych art house quartet Empath are Catherine Elicson: Guitar/Vocals, Randall Coon: Synths, samples and engineering, Garrett Koloski: Drums and Jem Shanahan: Keyboards. So my natural and immediate concern is, where is the bass? 

The beauty of Visitor is it challenges you to listen differently. The bass is there (especially on opening track ‘Genius of Evil’) and it’s an intriguing, frenetic, fun and sometimes chaotic collection of a dozen tracks. Drama and mystery is created by some prog-like keyboard riffs, samples of films and games like Minecraft, sound effects on an air conditioning unit and other such experimental drones. Yet it is mostly underpinned by a familiarity and accessibility of the vocals and guitars, with a driving post-punk energy from the drums given a sense of urgency.

“I got the idea of genius of evil from coming across the 19th century religious sculpture ‘la genie du mal’. I was intrigued by the idea of a sculpture of Lucifer too seductive to be shown to the public.”

Catherine Elicson of Empath, on ‘Genius of Evil’

On first listen I kept asking myself if The Slits had been formed in the USA would they have sounded like this? But then I started hearing nods to Arcade Fire, Best Coast and others who may have subliminally influenced this palette. ‘Born 100 Times’ and ‘Passing Strangers’ imbue the energy and charm of Hinds, for starters. 

“I … wanted a song where I could bust out my sweep picking in a non-cringe way. I hope to be considered at the vanguard of sweep picking in pop music, thank you.”

ibid, on ‘Passing Strangers’

‘Corner of Surprise’ starts like a showtune (Rocky Horror-esque) before going down a more unpredictable experimental route.

“This is a song we just wanted to have fun with, and we basically tried to play it as fast as possible. Drums were inspired by a faster times new viking beat. I attempted my best Karen O yowl.”

ibid, on ‘Corner of Surprise’

And ‘Elvis’s Comeback’ boasts an almost one-minute long frenzy. 

“This song has lots of fun rhythms, basically each instrument is taking a turn adding to the rhythm of the song. The sixteenth note snare drum fill in the big chorus moment was inspired by my bloody valentine. They were always good at restrained but memorable drum fills and we wanted to avoid a corny overly grandiose drum fill during the biggest moment of the song.”

ibid, on ‘Elvis’s Comeback’

Whereas ‘V’ and ‘Bell’ then offer some reflective calm after the chaos and cacophony, before ‘Paradise”s jaunty guitar twang set a Vampire Weekend-on-speed pace to close proceedings. 

“The lyrics are borrowed from the last section of Cookie Mueller’s autobiography, Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black. It’s a letter from one of her close friends dying of AIDS, telling her she’ll be one of the first people he writes to when he gets to paradise.”

ibid, on ‘Paradise’

I found Visitor unsettling, but in good way, I think this may be a slow burner and it is growing on me with every listen.