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VVMPYRE Reviews Young Empress - Lost Time

Sometimes when it comes to being a critic, it is good to be one step ahead of the crowd. Figuring out what’s the next big thing allows you sometimes to sit down and form your thoughts on an artist early. This also applies to being a DJ and getting the smash record that gets the crowd going. It always is a shot in the dark though, but a sure bet for me recently has been with Aztec Records.

The London based Synthwave label has been cruising through the scene, quickly being able to find several incredible new talents that have made them a rather respectable name in 2021. The roster has reflected some of the best names of recent, Thought Beings, Bunny X, NINA, Gryff, Syst3m Glitch, Power Rob, some of these I outright take inspiration from as an artist. Now their next release will bring forward the debut album of English duo Young Empress. I took note of the duo smashing heads together with Zak Vortex for a rather surprising cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” after hearing it on Kaarin Zoe Lee. I was not expecting a practically untouchable track to sound this good in Synthwave, but alongside hearing a remix of their track “Ghosts” on Electrodome, I decided it was worth giving the review. So, what did we get with “Lost Time”?

Well, we certainly got a Synthwave debut album, that’s for sure. But for every kitschy cliche, this album starts with a tape insert for heaven’s sake, there is a fair bit of charm in the approach and the details within this record. Young Empress have a knack for hooks that help this album out a lot, alongside its ability to end its tracks on high notes, leaving this as an album that at least shows a lot of promise going forward. Not quite great, but certainly with a lot of good to be had.

I think the best way to break this down starts with the sound of this record, and this is where I gotta give some credit to Young Empress. For as much as there is a lot of traditional Synthwave elements, they didn’t have to cover Fleetwood Mac to spell out their particular brand of sound. 1987’s “Tango in the Night” comes to mind alongside Journey and even a touch of MGMT. This more Soft Rock-esque approach gives a much more mellow approach that compliments the writing, more on that later. It’s not as groundbreaking as I may suggest, but it is distinctly Young Empress.

At its best, the duo navigates through a set of clean guitars and warm keys alongside the Synthwave production. “Peacemaker” showcases this without missing a beat, but they also add a fair few variations throughout. “The Boys” adds a bit of groove with the help of Sunglasses Kid, “1428” leans on a darker bass and power chords to give some further stakes, and “Lost Time” picks up the pace to channel something between Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” and David Bowie’s “Modern Love”. The guitars are a tighter focus and allow the track to ascend into a climatic ending with the solo and the backing vocals, blazing its way into the best track on the album without question.

When these solos come up on tracks like “Lost Time”, “Peacemaker”, or even the synth and sax solos of “Eyes Closed” and “Ghosts” respectively, they really push the climax up. Even on “1428” when the solo is slightly buried by the vocals, the power chords throughout give the track a lot more life. It’s a shame that they really don’t really click on “Christine”, where the chords sound squeezed in and the attempt to get darker with the bass and organ feels rather tame. “Ghosts” also faces some rather thin production, where the bass is very hollow, and awkwardly sit in the mix where it crowds everything else. The moments when the track breathes are the main reason why I will take it over “Christine”, which is easily the weakest track here.

What might be the most consistent element of this record though is the vocals. Young Empress’ profile points to Duran Duran, and I can certainly hear it in Rebecca Davies’ vocal layering and melodies. You don’t get a ton of variation in this lane, especially in the hooks, but it doesn’t really need it. “It’s Always Dark” gives it a go, however, and succeeds with the high notes and staccato in the chorus, making it an easy highlight together with the unique percussion and guitar arps. “1428” aims for a more subtle set of verses and sticks the landing as well, while “Saturday” is perhaps a little less successful in attempting to create an anthemic bridge and comes off a bit underwhelming.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, came in the lyrics. I never expect Synthwave to carry a ton of weight in the lyrical department, but Young Empress get rather sentimental with their lyrical inspirations. I have to remember that as a 26-year-old East Coast American, I am not exactly in the majority demographic for this type of music. While this might make me a lot less connected to the lyrical approach to “The Boys” than I might appreciate it for, but I can certainly connect with a lot of the fantasy and movie themes throughout. “It’s Always Dark” and “Eyes Closed” have fun with The Neverending Story and Dead Poets’ Society respectively, whereas “Lost Time” lyrically channels Flashdance for an inspiration that the duo cited was directed to themselves to deliver their best, and it certainly shows.

Where it becomes more of a mixed bag, however, is when they attempt to get darker in the topical inspirations. While “1428” tackles Nightmare on Elm Street like a song commissioned for the soundtrack, “Ghosts” needed the remix EP it received shortly before this release, as its channeling of The Sixth Sense does not come out as well here. But whereas I can buy into the concept of ghosts being a lot more fun, “Christine” is where this really falls flat. This is a track inspired by the movie and Stephen King book of the same title, and it does not show at all, making the stakes a lot less frightening than they ever were in the story. I was left quite disappointed and when I first heard this diving into the back catalog, I certainly was nervous for this release.

Overall, though, in spite of its shortcomings, Young Empress has a lot to offer with their debut album. Their brand of Synthwave Soft Rock meshed with some slick variations in between and heartfelt writing makes for a solid listen, and one that certainly has me looking forward to more Young Empress. Feeling a Light 7, I could definitely recommend this, especially to newcomers in the scene and those who were around in the 80’s that could probably connect with the lyrics more. Another solid addition to Aztec’s solid release streak, and with the fantastic Thought Beings maxi single last week and next week’s single from Zak Vortex, it seems there is only more good to come.


Best Tracks: “Lost Time”, “It’s Always Dark”, “Peacemaker”

Worst: “Christine”

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