Think of artists from Bristol that have proved to be influential over the last couple of decades or so and the chances are that jazz, reggae, electronica and hip-hop will crowd to the fore. On that basis, it’s always refreshing to hear music that’s a little bit louder and a mite rockier coming from the south west. Empty Pools, a quartet who have released some well-received singles over the last couple of years, make just such music, as evidenced with their debut LP.
The album takes cues from the quartet’s apparently varied record collection. As such it attempts nothing new but, thankfully, neither does it come across as too much of an identikit homage to their heroes. There are winding basslines that tip their hat to early post-punk, alongside jangly guitars and the odd bit of screechy and rumbly feedback.
There are also a few moments of unashamedly loud satisfaction. Safety School is an early highlight thanks largely to the harmonious vocals of Leah Pritchard and a subtle but dreamy synth that skulks in the background and adds something unexpectedly starry-eyed to the track’s atmosphere. The wail that acts as Televised’s chorus (the catchiest moment on the album) is ridiculously simple but so catchy with it.
The second half, whilst not quite as attention grabbing, does have its fair share of interesting moments. Small Talk alternates between verses that sound like a deconstructed Foals song and a substantially grungey chorus. They are at their most determined on the seven-minute Debris, which develops its own intriguing soundscape over its first 90 seconds or so; right before the listener is lulled into a daydream, the mood is shattered as a more conventional structure takes hold.
The tracks are perfectly listenable on their own, but as a whole the album doesn’t quite work. It all gets a little too samey in places, meaning that the weaker tunes are forgotten about; what we have is enough songs for a cracking EP but not a long-player. This is a shame as Pritchard, as a vocalist, can be upfront and startling on a regular basis. There’s much angst reminiscent of early ’90s alternative rock, but it’s not overbearing. As a result it compliments the music well.
Saturn Reruns provides some enjoyment, and there are elements of the Empty Pools aesthetic that are to be admired. But it runs out of steam far too often, and Empty Pools’ reluctance to shift from Plan A is ultimately their downfall here. The south west guitar revolution remains some way off, judging from this, even if its coming is only a matter of time.