In a recent interview Empath explained that ‘Soft Shape’, the opening track on their debut album, was created when they sped up the beat from Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ and added a counter-rhythm based on the riff to Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’. The description gives some indication of the Philadelphia quartet’s randomised approach to music making but it doesn’t quite capture their messy idiosyncrasies.
Largely written as acoustic folk songs by Catherine Elicson, they’ve mutated beyond recognition into lo-fi noise-pop that sound like it’s been recorded at the bottom of a well. Tracks crunch to an unexpected close and squirm out of focus just as a melody seems to have surfaced, with bird song or howls of Sonic Youth style guitar breaking through the mix.
Their willingness to tear up the rulebook is exhilarating fun, with the ringleader being former Perfect Pussy drummer Garrett Koloski. He clatters around with the enthusiasm of a hyperactive octopus, creating an intense backdrop for songs that deal with anxiety and abandon.
The exception is ‘IV’, an instrumental that draws on ambient music. It breaks up the relentless mood of Active Listening: Night On Earth while suggesting deeper thoughts at play.