Empire of the Sun - Ice on the Dune | Album Review | By Volume

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Empire of the sun IceOnTheDune

Empire of the Sun

Ice on the Dune

In an attempt at reinvention, Empire of the Sun return exactly the same. But that isn’t horrible.

Comments (2)
Author: on July 3, 2013
5.0
Capitol Records
June 14, 2013

Empire of the Sun are a gloriously fun band, but they’re also incredibly epic. It’s no stretch to envision yourself grouped with countless others in some massive arena, “Celebrate” echoing through the rafters, its bass rendering your insides into some gelatinous goo. If the notion of mindlessly sweating balls whilst inebriated by some potent chemical concoction is one that fits your personal taste, then Ice on the Dune may be an applicable soundtrack to the party. Beyond that, though, it seems there’s little the Aussie power-duo have to offer. Empire of the Sun have twice now produced records that combine the shallow pomp of modern US Top-40 with radio-ready electronica and project it through a glam rock-meets-high fantasy aesthetic. No matter how extravagant their concert outfits become, they always seem like tourists in the realm of sincerity; it’s not that they are devoid of heart or personality, it’s simply that even they don’t seem to be buying into the whole gag.

At first, you would never be able to tell; Ice on the Dune starts off quite strong, opener “Lux” a ninety-second journey through some dew-soaked, smoky landscape of cascading strings and bellowing synthesizers. It’s pure auditory transportation and, curiously enough, is devoid of Luke Steele’s Robert Smith-come-Bowie croon – usually a defining characteristic. Following “Lux” is “DNA”, a cut of pure dance music heaven, complete with enormous synths lines, thunderous bass, and Steele at his quirky finest, pining “Be my / be my DNA / Don’t wanna fade away,” as his voice is enveloped in bassy reverb. “DNA” is easily the finest thing this group has produced since their formation, capitalizing on all their pop hooks and fantasy-tinged prog pleasures.

If one were to recall the band’s 2008 debut, though, Walking on a Dream began in a very similar fashion: “Standing on the Shore” set the stage while “Walking on a Dream” cracked their post-“Kids” MGMT trappings out of the park. Sadly, following this impressive one-two punch, the rest of the record slogged along, barely able to keep upright. Ice on the Dune is absolutely no different, except now the focus is less on aping modern electro-pop and more on mining the past for a semblance of inspiration. Empire of the Sun never seem like true auteurs, but more dedicated imitators.

Many have derided them for their lack of originality, which is something of an overreaction. The group are derivative, but it hardly draws back their shtick, just adding to their resounding accessibility. It is their pastiche approach, though, an overall falsity permeating the whole of Ice on the Dune, that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It is difficult not to imagine Steele and Nick Littlemore plotting their chart successes with each subsequent single. Trading in their indie-fied electro-pop for classic glam rock that has more substance, the duo have laid way for an interesting path to tread.

While Empire of the Sun are far from intolerable, and nor can I imagine their live performance being anything but sense-shattering, it is difficult to buy in to them as they appear to want you to. In their minds, tens of thousands will populate various fields and stadiums throughout the world, clamoring for Empire’s brand of breezy, plastic, disco ball-EDM. And sure, one day they may ascend to those heights, but I can’t help feeling like most of the their audience will be stuck on the likes of Daft Punk and Rabbit in the Moon, expounding how that was back when this shit was real. 

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  • Rudy Klapper

    I was not a fan of the first one but for some reason sort of dig this. Wish he would go back to Sleepy Jackson tho

    • Dylan Siniscalchi

      honestly think I prefer this to the first — but not by much. In my mind they aren’t very different from one-another.

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