Alt Corner #7: Empires

It seems to me that the lack of alternative music covered on this site is depressingly thin. Having grown up in a rock-loving community, where small alternative bands have thrived for years, this depresses me. And so, Alt. Corner is born. Every week I’ll be recommending an alternative rock band for you to listen to, ranging from colossuses of the underground scene to unsigned groups who are destined for something bigger. This week, I’ll be looking at…



Empires hail from Chicago, Illinois, across the pond from us Brits so it’s not surprising that next to nobody has heard of them over here. They’re a young band still working their way up in their own country, and wouldn’t have had the chance to even think about their international appeal. But what Empires bring is a universal sound – simple, understated, and readily accessible, and they’re a fantastic listen for all those willing to give them the time of day.

What really sets them apart is the timeless nature of their sound. You listen to one of their songs and it could have been written in any decade, but the fact that they’re an up-and-coming group speaks mountains of their mammoth crossover appeal. Their brand of indie rock – leaning heavily on the ‘rock’ side of their indie tag – is a smooth listen, and with every song you’ll find yourself being drawn more and more in to lead vocalist Sean van Fleet’s all-devouring croon and the soul of their heartland rock, where influences of artists like Springsteen are evident.

Empires released their debut album ‘HOWL’ back in ’08, and not only that – they gave it away for free! You wouldn’t normally expect much from a free album from a relatively unknown band, but ‘HOWL’ would have been worth your money if the Chicago boys hadn’t been feeling so generous. It rises and falls in all the right places, and echoes with a moonlit backdrop that will ring in your ears for minutes after the last notes have rang. From the shadow-drenched ‘Spit the Dark’ to the highs of ‘Anywhere’, ‘HOWL’ is an album that showcases Empires in a very special way.

This was followed in 2012, after two EPs and a vinyl, by ‘Garage Hymns’ – a more refined sound, but one that will last just as long in the memory, and here, Empires put it all out there. Roaring rock songs and dark ballads paint a picture of a band really hitting their stride and starting to feel comfortable with their growing reputation, their growing fan base and their growing sound. Songs like ‘Hell’s Heroes’ were made to be played at arenas.

Empires still have a long way to go. Hell, they’ve not long stretched their reach too far out of their own state, but they’re clawing their way towards something bigger. It’s a shame that, in this day and age, a band with such raw talent and a magnetic sound is losing out to the interchangeable chart-fillers. Here’s hoping that 2014 will be the year that people will finally sit up and take notice.

Listen to: ‘Spit the Dark’, ‘Midnight Land’, ‘Hell’s Heroes’.


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