From their weirder first album Walking on a Dream to the dance magic of Ice on the Dune, there’s been a distinct formula to Empire of the Sun’s brand of synthpop that’s worked for them. While it didn’t always work, when it did it led to some amazing moments that were well worth sitting through a few misses to get to. Now that they’re back with Two Vines, things are continuing to look the same for them, albeit in a much less exciting way.
Compared to the heavier beats of Ice on the Dune, Two Vines keeps things simple. The album is dominated by mid-tempos with pop beats and icy synths, but with less of a punch than before, remaining much more in the realm of pop music rather than expanding into the world of dance once again. It’s a safer approach, one that ultimately fits their sound well, but it’s followed so rigidly that there isn’t much here to break up the eventual monotony that the album finds itself settling into at about the halfway mark with Way To Go.
There are definitely some moments where they get the pop formula right again, though. Friends features one of strongest beats and catchiest melodies on the album, despite fitting into the formula as rigidly as any other early song, and stands out even just thanks to the stronger nature of its production. Ride takes things back a step, keeping a similar beat but placing more focus on the strumming guitar and featuring warping vocals and a much stronger warbling synth as its main element, taking a stronger hint from old Daft Punk music rather than sticking to the formula, making it the only song to really trump Friends. It sets a trend for the latter half as well, with Digital Life coming across as more of a beeping digital soundscape than anything else and the songs that follow taking on more interesting melodies and effects, but they ultimately face the same issues as the earlier songs with weak production being their major downfall.
Two Vines is ultimately too safe for its own good. While things do pick up in its second half, outside of moments like Friends and Ride it falls short on the musical side in a way that it unfortunately never fully recovers from. Two Vines is a very simple album for Empire of the Sun, even in comparison to their usual fare, and unfortunately doesn’t shine quite as much as their previous material.