ABOVE: KEITH AND CATHY LATINEN OF EMPIRE! EMPIRE! (I WAS A LONELY ESTATE)
If there really is such thing as an "emo revival" (it's a prickly subject among music writers, for whom the jury remains out), we'd place the Fenton, Michigan-based, punctuation-happy, husband-wife duo Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) right at its forefront. Over the course of one full-length, four EPs, and 12 splits, Keith and Cathy Latinen have honed a sound that marries the best of what you remember from Get Up Kids and Built to Spill's tight-fitting arrangements with earnest, plain-spoken first-person storytelling that calls Mark Kozelek's to mind.
Throughout the 11 songs that comprise the band's new LP, You Will Eventually Be Forgotten, which we're pleased to premiere in full below, quotidian tragedies are properly mourned by Keith's keening vocals: the first two songs deal with near-miss car crashes ("my life did not flash before my eyes," he clarifies); another with finding out on high-school spring break that a friend's brother has died. These are intimate lyrics, telling the kinds of sad stories that happen every day and are important mostly to the people who have to live through them; various songs find their subjects "on my way to my younger sister's dance recital" or "leaving lunch with your best friend" or on "a trip with my brother, my father, and my uncle."
It's an album about mid-to-late-20s ennui, too, stripped of any glamour: of a postcollegiate job selling paint at Sherwin-Williams, Latinen writes, "I was not a model employee; I was frequently late and felt my education made me overqualified and that the job was far beneath me." (It should be noted that, in keeping with the vowel-stretching conventions of the genre, it takes over a full minute for him to get through the song's relatively straightforward first sentence: "After graduating from college, I moved back home to my parents' house in Fenton.")
"Since the beginning of the band in 2006, I've almost entirely changed my writing style from being largely metaphorical to being incredibly literal," Latinen told us of the album, which benefits from the duo's nearly five years of experimentation, via splits and LPs, since their debut. "I tried to trim the fat and make it so each word mattered and everything was there for a reason. Since the beginning of the band in 2006, I've almost entirely changed my writing style from being largely metaphorical to being incredibly literal. I went from thinking that if people wanted to get the meaning, then they would have to dig for it to appreciate it, to wanting to paint as vivid as a picture as possible so that the reader or listener just had to place themselves there."
In writing the album, Latinen drew inspiration from graphic novels, among them Craig Thompson's Blankets and Jeff Lemire's Essex County Trilogy; and the couple's friend Ben Sears created a brand-new work, titled Ribbon, which tells the album's stories in eleven illustrated chapters and will be released as a companion to it.
Perhaps most telling, though, is Latinen's invocation of like-minded writers John Steinbeck and Robert Lowell. "Their use of language is simple, specific, direct, and very beautiful," Latinen says. "Dressing up everyday events to make them a grand affair."
EMPIRE! EMPIRE! (I WAS A LONELY ESTATE)'S YOU WILL EVENTUALLY BE FORGOTTEN WILL BE RELEASED AUGUST 19 VIA COUNT YOUR LUCKY STARS/TOPSHELF RECORDS. STREAM IT IN FULL ABOVE. FOR MORE ON THE DUO, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.