Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
Earlier this week on the Independent Spotlight, I highlighted an artist who’s doing an incredible job pushing Garageband to the limits to create mind bending instrumentals. It would seem that this week brings us another artist boasting similar brevity: Empire of Gold, the moniker of Michael Dole. His first solo EP, ‘Raw,’ is a five track collection that ‘defies modern production techniques and shows listeners a musician who has raw, unedited talent.’ That’s a tall order to fill. How does ‘Raw’ stack up?
‘What Are You Waiting For?’ introduces the record in exactly the way you’d expect it to: hounding electric guitars, thundering percussion, and hodgepodge production accumulate into the giant sonic mess that is Empire of Gold. I mean that in a good way; it’s a chaotic experience that still seems to remain organized and well conducted. This is the grunge you know and love from the early 1990s - powerchord tracks with blistering distortion and warped vocals.
One thing came to mind immediately in the first few tracks of ‘Raw.’ This music would be utterly fantastic performed live; I bet this concert would be a hell of a time. It has good old rock and roll vibes mixed powerfully with grunge and alternative influence. The explosive ‘Burning Bridges’ melds the pathways between Dole’s electric mayhem and acoustic prowess. I really dig this atmospheric, moody number.
‘You (Shouted the Worst You Could Do)’ pushes an acoustic guitar and Dole’s lyrics into the spotlight. He’s not a particularly strong vocalist; he seems to fall out of key and has some trouble finding his feet throughout the songs. With that said, nobody ever accused Kurt Cobain of being an American Idol, either. It’s a genre that feeds off of emotional, distraught delivery. Empire of Gold’s music feels genuine and ‘You (Shouted the Worst You Could Do) is the best song on ‘Raw’ as a result.
‘Hot, Damn’ continues Dole’s jaunt through self-deprecating lyrics and grumbling. It’s actually a really sweet, even bluesy track, however, one that offers a stark contrast from the rest of the record. I absolutely love the electric riff that accompanies Dole; the song had me tapping along and really getting into it.
Though distorted chaos is always fun, I’d argue Empire of Gold is at its strongest when Dole breaks out the acoustic guitar. The final track, ‘Help Me,’ elegantly culminates the entirety of ‘Raw.’ From the soft acoustic intro to the howling chorus and electric solo, ‘Help Me’ demands your attention until the final moments of the record.
‘Raw’ is an incredibly good rock/grunge effort. The indie scene doesn’t see too much of this content, nor does the Independent Spotlight. So many bands approach grunge in a contemporary setting with immense pretension. (I’m looking at you, whole city of Portland. We both know those glasses aren’t prescription. Or you, Wicker Park, in Dole's own town.) Empire of Gold’s endeavor is real and honest, not hipstery or gimmicky.
Listen to the record on Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/album/0y0NvhVNv7aafEgiLuFsxF