VISITOR OUT FEBRUARY 11 VIA
Photo Credit: Marie Lin (download hi-res)
Philadelphia, PA noise-punks Empath share a video for “Passing Stranger,” the new single from their anticipated upcoming album, Visitor, out 11th Feb via Fat Possum. The chamber piece was shot by Empath collaborator Halle Ballard in Catherine Elicson’s apartment.
“The beat was inspired by druggy Velvet Underground drums, on top of which Randall began improvising a heavy tremolo on his synth. One of the slowest songs we’ve ever written without an abrasive moment. We finally got to do a fade out,” says Elicson. “This song was written in a similar way to ‘Diamond Eyelids’ i.e. collaging together memories. This time I pieced together different memories from my childhood, some idyllic, some difficult, but as if it were a story about someone else returning to their hometown. The melody of this song was actually in a really old iPhone voice memo that I had made and forgot about. When I re-listened to it after a year or so, I was like damn this is catchy I gotta finish writing this one. I also wanted a song where I could bust out my sweep picking in a non-cringe way. I hope to be considered at the vanguard of sweep picking in pop music, thank you.”
Empath announced Visitor last year and released “Born 100 Times,” which The Guardian praised for its “?viscerally euphoric peaks”, and The FADER named a ‘Song You Need In Your Life’, calling it a “headspinner.” Follow-up single “Diamond Eyelids,” was called “a fuzzy, nuanced delight” by The Line of Best Fit, and branded by Paste as “as shoegaze as it is pop, without losing the noisy chaos that has made Empath such innovators.” Visitor was also named one of the most ‘Anticipated Albums of 2022’ by Pitchfork, and Rolling Stonesaid it “still sounds like Empath, only clearer, as though the mists surrounding their dream world had suddenly parted to reveal something even more radically inventive.”
Inspired by the disquieting scores of Nosferatu (1922) and The Wicker Man (1973) alongside David Bowie’s Low and forever favorites Fleetwood Mac, Visitor marks a seismic shift for the Philadelphia, PA quartet. While the album holds steadfast to the careening, joyous noise Empath staked their name on, Visitor was produced by Jake Portrait (Unknown Mortal Orchestra), making it the first release the band has recorded with a producer in a formal studio.
Empath is hitting the road in the US with Fucked Up later this month. All dates can be found here.
WATCH THE “PASSING STRANGER” VIDEO BELOW.
Of the video, Elicson says “this video was shot in my apartment in one night. Garrett had ordered a bunch of candles online. We bought some supplies from the deli across the street and also a box of wine. We set up a bunch of colorful lights and props in my studio room and improvised most of the shots. The outdoor scenes were taken on the roof once we needed some fresh air. We ordered Indian food and didn’t really feel like working on the video anymore after eating, so I did a few shots alone and we called it a night. The video was shot by Halle Ballard on iPhone 11 at a high frame rate and on a DV camera. I edited it over the holidays on a copy of premiere pro cc that I have access to via my friend’s login she had when she worked for a documentary filmmaker. She hasn’t worked with him for a couple years though, so I’m grateful the login still works.”
On Visitor, Empath sought to one-up the range of sounds heard on their previous album. During what he calls West Philly Christmas (the week undergrads at UPenn move out and leave piles of high-quality garbage out on the street) Randall Coon recovered a suitcase organ with a sound bank from a Jamiroquai record preset on it, which he later played on the album, in addition to running samples on Ableton and acquiring a brand new synth; Jem Shanahan, who plays a ‘90s children’s keyboard, had Portrait filter it in such a way that it sounded “less childlike”; Catherine Elicson’s vocals, buried deep in the mix on Active Listening: Night on Earth, take center stage; and Garrett Koloski’s drums are as capacious as they might be in a live set.
“Our approach to songwriting, and what we constantly try to improve upon, is finding the meeting ground between all of our distinct points of view and ideas we are trying to achieve sonically and conceptually,” Elicson says. “We never want to be tied down to one type of song or sound, and we love all kinds of improvisational music. We try to fit everything we love into each song, and hopefully produce something new and exciting through that process of synthesis.”
Visitor attempts to fill space, both physical and psychic, visible and invisible. The album’s cover was photographed by Andrew Emond, who captures the interiors of abandoned buildings. “The spaces look lived in and altered by humans but no humans are present,” Elicson reflects. “The songs are similar in the sense that they talk about the ‘space’ between people. They’re not about specific people per se, but they illustrate the feelings people leave between each other, these subjective experiences. You can think of Visitor as a soundtrack to the memories and feelings that remain in places people have left behind.”
In the process of writing the lyrics to “Diamond Eyelids,” Catherine patchworked memories together, prioritizing a likeness in sensation over the circumstantial. “History comes back to you in shards that I reach out to touch,”she sings, a hint of desperation in her voice. “Tell me we create love in absence.” Rather than compete, the song’s two melodies coalesce, a sensation that’s at once catchy and just slightly unnerving. “That song has pop sensibilities, but it’s weird and heavy at the same time,” Coon says. “That’s definitely something we strive for,” Koloski adds. “We want to throw all these experimental ideas in but at the end of the day, we want people to be able to sing along to it.”
On the muscly, two-chord progression of “Born 100 Times,” the closest to a punk song Visitor has to offer, Elicson’s razor sharp delivery serves as a counterweight to the instrumental onslaught. “We tried to balance the lyrical whimsy with instrumental heaviness and hoped to transcend both,” Elicson says. It also boasts some of her best writing, distilling humid pangs of midsummer love in an unforgettable line: “You’re soft like leather in the heat because devotion comes so easily, in every color you can dream.”
Empath included a series of samples on Visitor, all of which cohere to make the album sound as if it’s disrupting ambient noise. “Audio was taken from films, minecraft, a cassette of nature sounds from the Bayou, recordings of an air conditioner, and a church choir heard through the walls of the warehouse we rehearse in,” Elicson says. “It’s a collage of sounds intended to produce a feeling of hearing life through the walls.” Visitor attempts to bridge the space between. It’s an impossible task, surely, but the result of their efforts produces a transcendent experience all its own.