Empty Orchestra came together in 2006, forming out of the remains of several different Michigan bands, as a casual recording project between songwriter/guitarist Stephen Wisniewski and some of his friends. The result of that experiment was the first Empty Orchestra EP, “Get Well Soon,” a weird collage of American roots music that would set the tone for things to come. Over the past few years, Empty Orchestra has toured extensively and has shared the stage with bands that have ranged from Murder By Death to Jeremy Enigk to Shooter Jennings.
Empty Orchestra’s new disc seems to garner frequent comparisons to The Hold Steady and there is some merit to this comparison as Wisniewski’s lyrics are highly narrative stories and, musically, the band utilizes prominent keyboards and anthemic choruses. This is just though a jumping off point for the band’s sound as there are equal elements of alt-country and roots rock so comparisons could also be made to bands like Uncle Tupelo, Sun Volt and Wilco. In a bit more “sane” quote than the one mentioned above, the band describes their songs as “rooted in the sometimes uncomfortable rubbing together of traditional musical forms like country, blues, punk, rock and roll, and others. In many ways, it’s folk music, meaning music that has a relationship to a community, and usually a relationship to struggle – it’s an impossibly messy and constantly changing tool for people to express joy and navigate pain, and of voicing outrage and celebration and solidarity.”
The disc start with The Hold Steady-ish relationship song “Broken Record” (which provides a first view into Wisniewski’s turn of a phrase with lyrics like “You and I like an AM radio station / Talking late into the night”) which features nice guitar leads and an anthemic chorus. “The Ballad of Bulls Run” moves into the heart of the disc with a roots rock labor ballad, which was inspired by the 1936 sit-down strike in Flint, Michigan.. “A Wide Spot in the Road” follows in the roots vein but brings in female backing vocals and is slightly poppy (somewhat similar to Chicago’s Cobalt and the Hired Guns). “Trust Me” is a mid-tempo rocker that falls somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and the Gin Blossoms. “The Audience” is a real standout – it is a moody alt-rock number with a pulsing beat and innovative start/stop breaks. Tracks "You Should See the Other Guy", "Lo and Behold" and “Echo's Bones” are big, full-sounding rock numbers with a complex interplay of instruments, “bash it out” drums and exploding choruses. The band slows down with weary road tales on tracks "Black and Blue" and "We have Ways of Making You Talk" and goes out with track "Empire State Building", which starts with a slow-burning intro before building into a full rock number. This last track through never builds to the exuberance heard on some of the earlier rock numbers as there is an underlying current of melancholia and, ultimately, the wall of sound collapses to a syncopated drum outro.
Empty Orchestra is currently in the midst of an East Coast tour which stops at Big Snow Buffalo Lounge in Bushwick on Thursday, August 2nd. Full tour dates are below:
Wed - 7/25/2012: TBA, Atlanta, GA.
Thurs - 7/26/2012: TBA, Asheville / Charlotte, NC. With Shores.
Fri - 7/27/2012: The Cave, 452 1/2 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. With Shores and Shit, That’s Ironical!
Sat - 7/28/2012: Strange Matter, 929 W. Grace St, Richmond, VA. With Shores and Red States
Sun - 7/29/2012: TBA, Washington DC. With Shores, PygmyLush.
Mon - 7/30/2012: The Level Room, 2102 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19103. With Shores.
Tues - 7/31/2012: Squid Amps, Providence, RI. With Shores.
Wed - 8/1/2012: O’Briens, 3 Harvard Avenue, Boston, MA 02134. Doors 8pm. 21+. $6. With Shores, Grass is Green, and Perhaps.
Thurs - 8/2/2012: Big Snow Buffalo Lodge, 89 Varet St, Broklyn, NY 11206. With Shores.
Fri - 8/3/2012: Howlers, 4509 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224. With Shores.
Sat - 8/4/2012: Flint Local 432, Flint, MI 48503. With Shores.
Sun - 8/5/2012: Mulligans, Grand Rapids, MI. With Shores, Kite Party, and Glocca Morra.