October 10, 2016

EP: Empath - Crystal Reality Vol. II

Empath's latest EP is a secret universe where noise is the way to tranquility.

Live music sounds best bouncing off corroded basement walls. There’s something so purifying in jumping around a damp room, cramped between sweaty, smelly friends and strangers. Why is that, exactly? Well, first let’s think about what a basement is. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the part of a building that is wholly or partly below ground level.” Now, consider your physical response to music: at its most powerful, music shakes awake those those nerves in the dark recesses of our intestines that we never otherwise sense. In basements, nobody, probably not even the residents, know what’s lurking in the dark, cobwebbed corners. When you walk down those creaky steps, you’re entering a secret world where only a select group has access. When the band starts, the noise surrounds you, the noise swallows you, and the noise gives you no other choice, but to allow it. After the music ends, you stagger back up those creaky steps to the light of the living room, your eyes less cloudy, you shoulders lighter, and your heart fuller. That was the experience watching Philly trio, Empath, in a West Philadelphia basement this summer. Empath’s latest EP, Crystal Reality Vol. II is a secret universe where noise is the way to tranquility.

The intro track starts the journey with what sounds like an alien transmission. A robotic voice, akin to the “Yankee...Hotel...Foxtrot” sample from Wilco’s album, chants the EPs title. “Volume II,” she concludes. “Dark Honey” starts with a brief soundscape of birds chirping before plunging us into mosh-inducing noise. The lyrics are virtually inaudible, but you can hear their voices barely ringing out over the musical melee. Over the next two tracks, the words become clearer and their voices find more separation. Musically, “Heaven” follows suit. “I just want to get to heaven,” they repeat. Heaven, in Crystal Reality’s world, is the birds perched on the treetops, singing their peaceful song (they appear on the first volume, too). “Soft Beams of Light,” the final track, has a more traditional song structure. It’s a sludgy number punctuated with musical freak-outs as the chorus. The birds traverse a similar path to clarity. At the end of “Dark Honey,” arbitrary noise smothers them; “Heaven,” concludes with a single drone cutting through their song. “Don’t have to find the words that explain what you’re feeling now,” they admit in the very last line of the EP. When Empath stop singing and the instrumental onslaught ceases, all we’re left with is the birds. When words fail, music picks up the slack. When music takes us as far as it can, we listen for the notes of creatures flying above the dissonance of human life. Then, we head back into the noise until the next basement show cleanses us once again.


Listen to Empath on bandcamp.

Alex Stern is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia, PA. He enjoys Hemingway Daiquiris, Frasier, and lox. You can follow him on Twitter @alyman007, but he won't be offended if you don't.