Album Review: Emperor Yes – An Island Called Earth

Emerging from the cultivated stable of Already Heard favourites Alcopop! Records comes one of its newest acquisitions, London-based synth-poppers Emperor Yes. Featuring a familiar face to some in drummer Adam Betts, who normally plies his trade in math-prog extraordinaires Three Trapped Tigers, this outfit present a change of pace for the aforementioned Betts, as the trio play a mixture of psychedelia á la The Flaming Lips, combined with more modern chart-botherers such as Passion Pit, MGMT & Everything Everything. The overriding lyrical theme is that of space, as can be gleaned from song titles such as ‘Cosmic Cat’, ‘Intergalactic Quarantine’ and ‘Carl Sagan’, the latter named for a notable astrophysicist. So, in terms of ‘An Island Called Earth’, what can the initials “NASA” stand for? “Not "Alf Sounding Amazing”? “Nasty Abhorrent Shitty Album”? Somewhere in between the two, I feel; although it has its moments, this ultimately is “Nice Albeit Slightly Anaemic”.

As lovely and airy as most of these tracks are, this is little more than background music. Not that there’s anything wrong with background music – after all, you don’t need to have your head caved in by riffs whilst you’re painting a room or doing a spreadsheet. Unfortunately though, background music isn’t very engaging to review and while there are a lot of positive features to this record, such as the charmingly bizarre lyrical content of ‘Wasps’ which imagines a world invasion by the titular furry pests (“I for one welcome our new insect overlords”, etc), too much of it floats by without leaving much of a lasting effect. There’s only so many times one can listen to slight variations on the same synth riff without growing a little tired, despite Summer Camp’s Jeremy Warmsley’s stellar (NPI) production job.

It must be nice for Betts to experience a pace other than frantic, but this album is not without the opportunity for him to flex his drumming muscles, such as on the excellent ‘Intergalactic Quarantine’; unfortunately, this is a foray saved only for a brief interlude, and the remainder of the album feels like a waste of his formidable abilities behind the kit. Perhaps I was destined not to like this from a personal perspective given my distaste for The Flaming Lips; Ash Gardner’s vocal is pure Wayne Coyne worship, with a hint of That One from The Polyphonic Spree ( remember them? The ones that soundtracked Sainsbury’s adverts with Jamie Oliver shouting at kids to eat healthily). ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ with added references to Ancient Egypt (see “Paramesse To Tanis”) may appeal to some, but it’s a little lost on me.

Alcopop!’s reputation for releasing bands people can have A Lovely Time to has not been sullied here, and the special edition vinyl with fragments of real asteroid will cause the crossover between record collectors and fervent space nerds to break into the Cape Canaveral holiday fund instantly. However, their output has historically been far more pulsating and energetic than this – when the harmonies hit and the synths soar, such as on finale ‘Fishes’, we are shown what this album could have been, but for the most part, ‘An Island Called Earth’ cruises in second gear and, frustratingly, never pushes itself into warp speed. Emperor Yes? More like Emperor Hmm.


‘An Island Called Earth’ by Emperor Yes is out now on Alcopop! Records.

Emperor Yes links: Facebook|Twitter

Words by Ollie Connors (@olliexcore)


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