CD, Ninth Wave Records, 2009
First off, “Audio Gothic” has nothing to do with goth. Admittedly, some synthpop does end up being snapped up by the scene, but the catchier, more mainstream sound of Empire State Human (yes, they’re named for one of the Human League’s early singles) is probably not destined for much success with the lace, paganism and Andrew Eldritch school of thought. It’s not that “Audio Gothic” can be considered a happy record, either; the melancholic approach to lyrics and vocals makes this electro outfit far more appealing to an introspective audience than a club-going one.
Technically, it’s a cleverly composed piece of work, including some very interesting extras (like wah-wah pedal and guitar coming to the fore on the title track) and the collaboration with Kraftwerk’s Wolfgang Flür on “Melancholic Afro” – which ends up being a bit of an idiosyncratic addition to the album. It’s more pop than punk, but it has a far ballsier attack to it than the remainder of the record, which comes across as straight-up synthpop with no frills or quirks attached. And after ten years of doing this, the Dublin-based outfit is getting pretty good at it.
If a heavy new wave influence on modern electro with a more thoughtful approach to lyrics than is expected by the mainstream, coupled with a willingness to experiment with alternative instrumentation sounds like your idea of synthpop heaven, then Empire State Human is for you. And, if you are of a darker bent, paying attention to Empire State Human’s lyrics may offer you some solace, especially when compared with the crowd-pleasing nature of The Garland Cult’s (a side project formed by two members of Empire State Human) more commercial offerings. An older audience may even compare Empire State Human favourably with the likes of Heaven 17 or Bronski Beat.
— David vander Merwe