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April 16th, 2009
Imagine having an idea so powerful that you not only made an album about it, but also makes you travel to China to make a guerilla video inspired by your vision. That was how moved Empire of the Sun were when they were making their first album Walking on a Dream, which we’re offering for your listening pleasure as this week’s First Spin.
For all that their band name is taken from the Spielberg-directed 1987 flick Empire of the Sun, the group has pretty standard origins. The band is made up of two members from two completely different Australian groups: Luke Steele, from alternative act The Sleepy Jackson, and Nick Littlemore, one half of dance duo Pnau. At their first meeting in 2000, the two discovered a musical connection that Steele describes as a “fireball of electricity”, and a shared love of movies. Their collective influences, especially Alejandro Jodorowsky’s avant-guarde movie The Holy Mountain, inspired them to assemble Walking on a Dream as a complex artistic project.
After years of bonding, jamming, and working with their respective bands, their first collaborative album was finally created in 2007 in a process of mostly “spontaneous writing”, Steele says. “Most of the record was done when I’d be in town for a day, so we’d have to finish a whole song in a night. Then, two months later, I’m back, and we’d do it again…. It all just happened”.
The album cover is intriguing enough all on its own, and features the band dressed up in Ziggy Stardust-esque 1980′s period costumes, assuming the 1980′s took place on the moon. A futuristic city rises into the sky on the horizon, while tigers, dolphins, and elephants seem to float in the middle distance. Luckily, the band’s music is almost as epic as their art.
The album is full of great hooks and shimmery guitars that seem to be echoes of a time before the complexities of grunge and its 1990′s brethren shook up the music scene. “Standing on the Shore” and “Walking on a Dream“, the album openers, have great dance intros that might make the listener think of INXS or Duran Duran. That said, the influences of the songs seem to change from track to track, one minute sounding like A Flock of Seagulls, and the next minute pulling off a ballad like “Without You” that sounds so retro that George Michael could have had a hand in writing it.
My favourite track, “Country”, is something of a synthstrumental set among the stars, with a bright acoustic guitar supporting breathy background seagull sounds. And “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” sounds like it time-traveled into the future and borrowed a few of the better bits from some of Justin Timberlake‘s FutureSex/LoveSounds album. Altogether, Walking on a Dream tries hard to revitalize a chunk of the musical past, and succeeds admirably.
And what about this video, whose “exotic” costumes nearly got them arrested as they were filming in Shanghai? Steele describes it as “…pretty technicolour. It was done pretty renegade style, it’s illegal to film there. We had to do the make-up in the car.”
With prison narrowly avoided, there are now plans in place to film more video clips in Mexico, Iceland, and Las Vegas, and use these as visual support for the band’s first tour. No word yet on when this will be, or when the band will be coming to North America to share their musical flashbacks and sure-to-be vibrant film creations.
Until then, you can start streaming all the sonic goodness of the album riiiight heeeere.Tweet