Ottawa fans of indie, neo-psychedelic, and low-fi, rejoice! Empty Nesters and Soft Life recently released Empty Life, a split EP that evokes feelings of teenage idleness, depression, and violence all vis-à-vis distortion, mellow vocals, and kaleidoscopic sound—quite a feat!
Empty Nesters’ first track, cryptically named “???”, starts with an upbeat guitar rhythm that hints at an energetic, fun song where fast drums are expected to kick in after the intro. Interestingly, the drums didn’t make an appearance, and the lyrics were quickly revealed to be heavy with anguish, with lines like, “take me to the morgue now, take me there” and “I know that this is killing me inside”. Moreover, their cadence? Halftime. This subversion of rhythmic and emotional expectations is both surprising and satisfying.
The song “Fun Pockets” continues the musically psychedelic dreamscape that is Empty Nesters’ half of the EP. It evokes such bands as Tame Impala, Washed Out, and Beach House—experimental, acid rock chock full of delay pedals. The end of “No Regards,” with its ambient noises, background chatter, and otherworldly laughter, had a distinct feel reminiscent of Weezer. Since the aforementioned groups are all personal favourites, these comparisons should be understood as highly favorable. If you enjoy bands that submerge you in hallucinogenic whirlpools of sound, you’re in for a real treat.
The EP abruptly shifts with “Morocco,” Soft Life’s first song. For a second, I thought I was listening to a Neutral Milk Hotel track, given its pared-down, acoustic feel, and dark, oppressive lyrics (“Grown man held me on the floor and told me to turn around / Sure anything feels like hell when you’re laying on the burning ground”)—another huge compliment since In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is widely regarded as one of the best albums of the nineties and indeed of all time.
Soft Life’s songs are much like Empty Nesters’ in that they have a mellow, hazy quality, despite being more sonically understated. Their lyrics are particularly pensive, as they address a spectrum of experiences and feelings that range from quotidian malaise all the way to violent thoughts and incidents. There are lines that create a general atmosphere of boredom and hopelessness — such as “Sally wants to die / As our friends get high,” and “So call me up / And I’ll bring you down” — which are relatable if you’ve ever been totally despondent and miserable.
The song I found most compelling was “Stay in School.” This track provides us a glimpse into the inner life of a jaded and deeply depressed teen who has suicidal thoughts and contemplates “bringing [his] dad’s gun school.” Like the aforementioned lines, many of the lyrics in “Stay in School” resonate with anyone who’s ever been resentful, frustrated, disenchanted, or disheartened. Much of it wouldn’t be out of place in any teenager’s diary, but the speaker goes on to layer dark thought upon dark thought until you eventually hear whispers of gun violence running through his head: “Music to cut yourself to / Love songs to hate yourself to / Lyrics that make you want to / Take your dad’s gun to your school.”
Given the timing, this narrative is particularly poignant given the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It directly deals with the lack of support for mental illness, much as it deals with gun control by showing how effortless weapon procurement can sometimes be for young people, with the incredibly dark verse: “You know where to find it / Locked in your dad’s closet / The combination’s your birthday / Unlock your dad’s gun let’s go play.” This song points to serious political issues that must be rectified to save lives.
Empty Life is a dark, dreamy EP abundant with despair and topical relevance that you should absolutely buy now on Bandcamp — where you can also purchase the tape (or via Facebook). I immediately loved the sound upon my first listen, but it’s an EP that is increasingly rewarding—especially lyrically—with multiple plays.