The Out_Circuit's Pierce the Empire with a Sound has been in the works quite a while, and it's just about completely worth the wait. At the center of the ambitious project is Nathan Burke, most famous for his work in D.C.'s Frodus, only this time he's joined by a cast of varied characters that help create an album on the brink of greatness.
When Pierce the Empire with a Sound is on, it's absolutely on. Burke creates mesmerizing, slow-moving soundscapes full of wandering, lost guitars and sparse electronics; while a few songs feature a somehow fitting and appropriately piercing scream above it all, more often than not Burke can be found softly cooing in a breathy voice that's painted with melancholy yet soothing and lullabied. Opener "Come Out Shooting" is one of those songs featuring a more intense vocal approach thick with static and a weirdly workable British affectation, but Burke counters it in the chorus with his normal delivery; every terrible hair emo band that's formed the last five years wishes they could weave such an amiable sing/scream juxtaposition. "Across the Light" matches Burke's hush with Beauty Pill's Rachel Burke -- it's like a Postal Service song, only blackened and its tempo's speed cut in half. And "The Fall of Las Vegas," where Coalesce's Sean Ingram comes in with his familiar scratchy roar? Awesome, of course.
Among the contributions as well are Dustin Kensrue and Teppei Teranshini, both of Thrice, and it's incredibly important to mention their respective presences for several reasons. One: Kensrue stands in for Burke on "The Contender," and it's easily one of the album's best tracks -- Kensrue carefully moans and strains in varied ways for a welcomed performance. Two: Teranshini's production is a massive improvement on the Circuit's last effort, 2003's Burn Your Scripts, Boys, as it's darker and more subtle, thus perfectly fitting Burke's arrangements (which, not to mention, are noticeably tighter: compare the 8-song, 44:39 Scripts to the 10 songs and 48:34 here). Three: Both help think of an otherwise odd aural comparison to Thrice's Water EP much less contrived; drain Water a bit of its accessibility and Radiohead worship and the similarities in the respective approaches of both acts begin to turn up.
Where Pierce the Empire with a Sound is stopped short of being labeled as "blindingly good" are its dull moments, notably in the second half. It's a pure pity because, for the most part, Burke is brilliant here. He can conjure up the feelings of atmosphere and balladry without ever stooping into either's low points and tempers both with an experimentalism and craft that's unique and clearly gifted. But the stretch past the album's half-hour mark, where the material merely makes its mark as strong background fodder (f.e. "Scarlet"; parts of "We"; or the majority of the 7-minute and aptly titled "Lost Pilot," which mostly comes off like a creepy NASA transmission of an astronaut gone insane), can't be ignored. However, it should be mentioned that "New Wine" is a late standout, as Burke retains his gentle but searching demeanor in front of heartwrenching chords.
Overall, Pierce the Empire with a Sound is one of 2008's freshest sounding releases, and bears a healthy amount of replayability. With perfect artwork accompanying it, Pierce the Empire, despite inconsistencies, tends to be a visually and aurally stunning package.
Come Out Shooting
Across the Light [f/ Rachel Burke]
The Contender [f/ Dustin Kensrue]