The ease of a lazy groove never felt as tension-driven as it does in the immersive new jam “Youth Vaping” from The Empty Pockets, but as it is in “Maybe Next Time” and the title cut in Outside Spectrum, contrast is one of the most important elements to behold in this album.
The Empty Pockets touch on a lot of creative ground that other artists in their class just don’t seem interested in with the hybrid works “Tense Car Tab Confrontation” and “Heart of Ash,” and on a certain level, I think they’re doing everything they can to avoid recycling any ideas or concepts with the release of this latest record. There’s too much of an edge to “That Gun,” the soothing “Mrs. Sacramento,” and “A Bird Does Not Sing” for the material to have been sourced from somewhere else in the artistic underground, and I would even say that the band sounds a little more cathartic in their marrying of influences than they did in past efforts. They’ve come a long way in the more than sixteen years they’ve been making their mark on the indie circuit that gave credibility to some of the greatest players in history, and Outside Spectrum does a good job of marking their achievements.
Production quality has always been something this band takes a little more seriously than a lot of other underground groups have in their scene, and given the insularity of Chicago music culture in 2022, the cleanliness of this record is hard to ignore – even among the most removed of critics and listeners. It’s obvious that there was a lot of time spent working out even the smaller intricacies on the backend of the mix in “No Matter What They Say,” “Privatize the Profits,” and “Hold Your Lamp Up,” and given how much these three songs alone are able to lend to the greater theme in Outside Spectrum, I can understand and endorse the labor without question. Enhanced vocals, guitar solos, and elaborate drum setups; they’re a poor replacement for the soulful delivery in “A Bird Does Not Sing,” and I think it was wise for The Empty Pockets to emphasize the diversity of their influences as an Americana outfit over the virtuosity of their play in every possible instance here.
As colorful as the heartland that helped to inspire so many of its songs, Outside Spectrum is one of the more interesting LPs of this genre to land on my desk all year, and it brings to mind a lot of the classic content I grew up listening to in Americana without feeling like a legit throwback to anything specific in the old school.
There’s no denying that harmonies are leading the way in all eleven of the songs occupying this tracklist, but The Empty Pockets aren’t afraid to direct with their lyricism and refreshing rhythms in “Maybe Next Time” and “Heart of Ash,” either. They’re not limiting themselves based on creative wits, but instead getting all the more creative with their sound because of their willingness to make something familiar feel original again.
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