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Empath - "Active Listening: Night On Earth" | Album Review

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by Kris Handel (@khandel84)

Active Listening: Night on Earth is the debut full length of DIY off-the-wall punk quartet Empath, out of Philadelphia, and it delivers some clever songcraft and intense emotional power. Empath crank out songs that deliver blow after blow of bouncing and jagged punk with underlying pop melodies that billow out from under the melee. Active Listening follows a much talked about EP from 2018 and follows through on the promise of that recording with a more determined and increasingly wide-ranging world of sound. Over the past four years Empath hath found a way to expand their unique mix of synth swirl and found sound with crunching power and surprisingly fleet and versatile instrumental interaction.  

“Pure Intent” enthusiastically jumps out of the gates with frantic drumming, dancing and slamming around the stinging guitar work of Catherine Elicson, whose vocals add to the frantic tension and eventual collapse of everything around her. Here Empath show off their frantic chaos to a relaxed simmer at a moments notice that enhances the connection and power they possess. “Hanging Out of Cars” continues the momentum of the “Pure Intent” as Elicson’s guitar crashes around chiming synths as she alternates her vocals between attitude laden to somewhat of a relaxed and crushing coo. Elicson captures the feeling and hectic emotion succinctly throughout but especially with “where I take you is/ where I take myself/ and empty space/ is the most I’ve ever felt”.  

“Rowing” is a quick burst of stabbing guitar leads, crunching drum fills, and bending bass-work over which Elicson fiercely intones her vocals. Empath show off their ability to create some coherence and structure out of intensely paced and powerful blasts of chaos that somehow manages to never disintegrate or overwhelm the melodies at hand. “Décor” slows everything down a bit and provides a bit of relief from the tension and anxiety evident in the rest of the record. Everything is not settled and calm as Elicson’s lyrics express longing and the need for a change in environment, partnership, and routine.  

Active Listening: Night on Earth shows Empath to be a band really is a musical force and one that is extremely creative in every direction their impulses choose to take them. There is rarely a time where things seem settled in the world of Empath, however a connection always remains between the band as the seamlessly play off each other and the rampant emotions. There is rarely a moment of peace on this record as it appears to be on the verge of a breakdown most of the time, yet there remains a joy in a necessary release. This record delivers quite a gut punch, and a powerful one at that, and as an expression of joy, pain and honest emotion is a beautifully breathtaking piece of craftwork.