Music, Pop Culture

“Outside Spectrum” by The Empty Pockets

With a bit of angst sewn into the vibrant strut of its rhythm, the string play in “No Matter What They Say” mimics much of the same intense vibrancy you’re going to hear across the whole of the new album Outside Spectrum from The Empty Pockets this August. Whether acoustic or electric in nature, the fretwork in this tracklist is really evocative and highly poetic, to such an extent where I think the lyrical presence in songs like “Hold Your Lamp,” “That Gun,” and “Heart of Ash” is made all the stronger by the instrumental prowess of the title cut or “No Matter What They Say.”

There’s been a dramatic uptick in Americana across all of pop music in the past few years, but I don’t get the impression that The Empty Pockets are pursuing a typical model with this music at all – truth be told, they were already cutting this kind of aesthetic some sixteen years ago under the Josh & The Empty Pockets moniker. This is different from the status quo in that there’s investment behind all of this material, giving tracks like “Mrs. Sacramento” and “Youth Vaping” so much more life than they already would have had.

The soul elements behind “Mrs. Sacramento” and “Privatize the Profits” give us a lot of insight into the artistic fabric of Outside Spectrum, and I would even go so far as to say that they’re more striking when they’re offered straightforwardly than they are in the midst of an eclectic experiment. The former track is an instrumental juggernaut that reveals quite a bit about the priorities this group has in this studio, whereas the latter puts so much into the harmonies that we’re forced to notice details within their sound we might just as soon have overlooked in previous sessions.

I like that The Empty Pockets know each other’s limits so well, and even after so many years together you can tell that they’re not trying to push themselves with anything too aggressively. There’s a simplicity to “That Gun” and “Maybe Next Time” that implies an ease between musicians you just can’t fake into existence, nor embellish with synthetic componentry, and if it’s something they’re able to recreate outside of the controlled studio environment, this is a band you’re going to want to do anything and everything you can to see in person one of these days.

In terms of its full-bodiedness and well-rounded artistic scaling, Outside Spectrum just might be the best work The Empty Pockets have released thus far, and certainly one of the most complete albums of its kind to drop from the underground this year.

2022 is, as predicted, ushering a lot of Americana out of the woodwork and into the spotlight of the mainstream, but this isn’t an LP made in the spirit of this trend – quite the opposite, actually. In more ways than one, this band is a trendsetting force to be reckoned with, and they’re showing us precisely why that is the case in their latest release.

Cleopatra Patel

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