Published Apr 10, 2015Filming the music video for "Night Owl" outside of Scarborough's notoriously dingy Hav-A-Nap Motel is about as dangerous as Find The Others gets on new album Empire of Time. Andy Sheppard's latest project is a blend of digital samples, reedy synths, auxiliary percussion and acoustic riffs that vary greatly from track to track but are anchored by Sheppard's fragile, breathless vocals (likely encouraged by producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, given his past work with Sigur Rós). Unfortunately, the inoffensive collection of chamber pop songs on Empire of Time often mistake frailty for intimacy, and the intrigue intended by the whispered lyrics tends to fall short of interesting.
Empire of Time is an album to which the adage "less is more" applies. Sheppard's songs with the least accompaniment (usually a single acoustic guitar) are his most potent and where his style for whispered vocals are best suited ("Empire of Time" and "A Fine Line"). Issues arise when Sheppard's knack for digital blending overshadows the quality and temperament of the vocals ("We Stared At The World" and "The Things You Want"). "Light in a Bottle" is perhaps the guiltiest party; beginning with a synth run that sounds like an 8-bit recording, the song has an intentionally offbeat, off-key and overly modulated verse, and the quirky instrumentation and soft cadence miss the target on being pleasant and inspiring. Instead, the song feels cutesy, flat, and insincere, suffering from a crystalline pop soundscape that sounds excessively manufactured.
Empire of Time manages to recover when Sheppard successfully employs his distinctive acoustic-electronica style in an organic fashion that better mirrors his unaccompanied work. These songs — "Night Owl" and "This Vampire Has Seen Better Nights," especially — are rooted in more alternative sensibilities and are superior to the aforementioned tracks by their solid pace, engaging melodies and lack of hollow vocal effects. Here, Sheppard sounds less restricted by his sound, and there's an emotive urgency in his delivery that is rarely seen elsewhere on the album. (Forward Music Group)