During the past few years, Chicago has served as the breeding ground for bands trying to revive the sound that permeated the area in the 1990s. Many have come, and many have gone, but the scene is never lacking in new bands attempting to fill the void of the now-classic indie-emo sound.
One such group is Empty Isle. The band comprises members from other notable Chicago acts—CSTVT, Community College and Lipreader, just to name a few—Empty Isle specializes in indie-tinged emo songs that recall the Promise Ring in its earliest iterations. “Distance in Cigarettes” boasts jangly verses before giving way to a discordant, start-stop chorus. Tied together with noodly interludes and a rhythm section that flirts with collapse, Empty Isle captures the essence of what made past acts so engaging without merely becoming a group wrought with nostalgia.
Throughout the band’s Demo 2012 EP, Empty Isle showcases its knack for injecting subtle melodies into its sounds. “Birthmark Memory” opens with guitarists/vocalists Josh Snader and Keith Buzzard bouncing guitar lines off one another, as the sing-along “woo”s penetrate the listener’s psyche. The Braid-esque “yeah” thrown in near the track’s end only adds to the song’s energetic playfulness and its vintage feel.
Although it is only a five-song EP, Demo 2012 is well-constructed and commands attention throughout its short runtime. The production is lo-fi, and perhaps because of this, it occasionally recalls early Cloud Nothings material. It’s less fuzzed-out, but it has all of the snarled angst that helped Dylan Baldi garner so much praise early in his career. However, where Baldi’s early work often felt a little one-note because he was the sole band member, Empty Isle is already in tune with its group dynamics. The rhythm section, composed of bassist Alysa Snader and drummer Ryan Scaccia, propel songs such as “A Lie Every Time” by never making the loud-quiet transitions predictable or trite.
The five songs that compose Demo 2012 breeze by, leaving the listener pining for more from Empty Isle. The release concisely maps out the band’s sound, and it shows that even with the low production value, the songwriting is able to transcend this. While the group is deftly pulling influence from elder indie-rock acts, it never allows itself to become a mere imitator. Empty Isle takes the best aspects of a past movement, updates them, and comes away sounding as if it could have been part of that scene in the first place.
Empty Isle – Demo 2012 tracklist:
- “A Lie Every Time”
- “Distance in Cigarettes”
- “Birthmark Memory”
- “Drowning Dream”