2008’s Walking On A Dream catapulted Australian duo Empire Of The Sun into international stardom and onto H&M playlists all over Middle America. For a new and foreign act, that’s saying a little something. Their 2009 feature on “What We Talkin’ Bout” requested by Jay-Z himself (but not without questionability) seemed most promising; a feat that could secure their spot on electro-pop dance charts putting them at the forefront of relevancy.
5 years should have been more than enough time for masterminds like Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore to come up with a flawless follow-up. Instead, their sophomore album Ice On The Dune doesn’t seem like a real upgrade since their debut and is nothing but lackluster in comparison, and in a subtle way, it may even be worse. Pre-2011 Empire Of The Sun spearheaded their genre as electron dons and one of the reasons people showed up to Coachella. But that was pre-2011 before artists like Disclosure and Daft Punk, who returned to snatch their spot. And with the new release of Ice On The Dune, it seems to be that they don’t want it back.
There’s something so much less catchy about the songs on Ice On The Dune—a very odd thing, knowing Empire Of The Sun are the masters of releasing impressionable songs you always seem to know even if you can never remember where you picked them up. But the songs on this album sound so distractingly similar to one another that they’re almost unidentifiable, which makes it nearly impossible for any single track to stand out. It’s evident that the duo attempted to create a thorough follow up under the pressures of their much better debut, but they still faltered.
The album opens up with “Lux” which showcases an entire orchestral movement. Empire Of The Sun could’ve muted the theatrics because this piece definitely does not set the precedent for what’s left to come. It seems each song just has a cool name with no content. “Alive” seems more than what it actually sounds like. Even chanting ‘alive’ a million times as in “Loving every minute cuz you make me feel so alive, alive, alive” doesn’t actually make you feel alive. But the staccato keys and radiant synths are just enough to get your feet moving, if even in the littlest bit. “Awakening” shows the slightest glimmer of a hidden gem with its Donna Summer type disco edge and steady beat. It’s just difficult to understand what said ‘awakening’ refers to. But what’s most unfortunate about the album is not the undelivered messages, but that the production of Empire Of The Sun’s second album completely mimics that of the first. It’s impossible to hear any growth, any fresh creativity, and any yearning.
There’s a reason that this type of music is constantly played in the mall—because it’s just enough to make people feel good, but not enough to grab their attention. With respect to their past work, Empire Of The Sun could have had more of a chance at stardom. But with this release, they risk their only listeners being the millennial shoppers in the local H&M.