Temporarily leaving the music aside, the duo that comprise Empire of the Sun seem to have established their visual motif as a bizarre pastiche of the Skywalker ranch and a Yes album cover. It’s a choice that is somewhat fitting, as the accompanying music is similarly fanciful, but it’s simultaneously disappointing. It’s really the only element about Empire of the Sun, a collaboration between the Sleepy Jackson’s Luke Steele and Pnau’s Nick Littlemore, that shoots the audience a knowing wink about the ridiculousness of the whole endeavor.
Empire of the Sun’s debut album, Walking On A Dream, does dance dangerously close to camp. Some might argue that the album actually wholeheartedly embraces the idea. From the giddy highs of the title track to the down-tempo sweetness of “Without You,” this album is awash is the sort of gaudy synthesizers and drums that could only be utilized by musicians with little concern for appearing detached and cool. It’s quite refreshing, actually, which is why it’s so dispiriting that the band feels the need to remind the audience that they’re aware of their own kitsch. Empire of the Sun would do well for themselves if they just embraced the baggage that came with their sound and made no apologies for it.
But that’s enough public relations advice for right now, especially considering that Empire of the Sun are doing just fine on their own. The band have been making huge popularity gains on the strength of Walking On A Dream’s titular single, and not without good reason. Whether the song is intended as an homage to Daft Punk’s classic, “Digital Love,” or is merely an incidental implementation of that song’s infectious beats and moods is curious, but not totally relevant. The song kills, both as a standalone single and in the context of the album, mainly because it’s the rare track built for dance floors that retains a disarming level of intimacy. Combine this killer single with the recent upswing in status of disco-infused electronica – thanks to the likes of Hercules & Love Affair and MGMT - and it appears that Empire of the Sun might not be toiling in obscurity for much longer.
Of course, the glory would not last long if it was entirely attributable to a lone spectacular single, but Walking On A Dream has any number of worthy follow-ups to keep Empire of the Sun on your radar. “Walking on a Dream” is sandwiched between a couple of contenders. Album opener “Standing on the Shore” will similarly benefit from the listener’s (most likely positive) Daft Punk memories. “Half Mast” is not quite as successful, riding a chorus melody that emphasizes the more grating elements of Jackson’s falsetto, which is served much better on Walking On A Dream’s actual second single. “We Are the People” is a winning combination of Jackson’s appreciation for both analog and digital pop, with its acoustic guitar complimented melody riding an insidiously infectious groove. Moments like this are Walking On A Dream at it’s finest. Merging the clinical elements of electronica with legitimately affecting emotion is not an easy task, but Empire of the Sun manage to pull it off from time to time. At it’s very worst, Walking On A Dream is a hugely entertaining trifle.