Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) – ‘You Will Eventually Be Forgotten’ album review

‘I nearly lost you on our wedding day.
It was early afternoon, and you were leaving from lunch with your best friend, when your vehicle careened into an SUV… as it turned out in front of you, violently flinging you into the waiting airbag.
You were shaken and dazed, but otherwise ok and still determined to get married.
When I watched you walking down the aisle, you were glowing…
The scrapes and bruises only made you more beautiful.’

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) album cover

So opens ‘Ribbon’, the first song on Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate)’s second long player ‘You Will Eventually Be Forgotten’. Keith Latinen and Cathy Latinen, a husband and wife duo from Fenton, Michigan, have released countless songs on a variety of EPs and splits since the 2009 release of their debut ‘What it Takes to Move Forward’. Having toured with the likes of Into It. Over It., Mineral and The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die (where we first saw them in Kingston back in the spring), E!E! (IWALE), find themselves in the midst of the so-called ‘emo revival’ but offer a franker, more minimalist take on the genre – somewhat in the style of Josh T. Pearson, especially in this opener. Just Keith and some one-handed guitar playing, with one listen you can tell how much he is in love with Cathy. You can feel the romance, pride and his delight oozing out of your speaker – especially in that delightful closing line.

Free from metaphors for the majority and with an honest, down-to-earth direct line in storytelling, Keith looks back at the events that have shaped his life – ranging from what could be considered as mundane to those that have defined him and Cathy as people. There is more of a full band sound on the second song ‘I was Somewhere Cold, Dark… and Lonely’, which opens with the lyrics: ‘I almost died at 21 in January.’ As he goes on to describe a car crash in vivid detail, Keith replays the occasion and the feelings he experienced at the time in his head: ‘We were probably following too close, but I honestly can’t remember’ and ‘my life did not flash before my eyes’. While the emotional tone of Keith’s Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-style vocals will not be to everyone’s taste, we feel it adds extra weight to the sentiments he displays – especially on ‘A Keepsake’, which appears to talk about the way him and his wife are thought of by those they know: ‘We are people here, not numbers’. It’s also a touching anecdote that mentions Cathy by name and says about how nervous she was when they first got together and his worries about holding her hand and embracing her…

There is some youthful nostalgia on display in the triple bill of ‘A Keepsake’, ‘You Have to be So Much Better than You Ever Thought’ and ‘Stay Divided’, the former of which offers a nod to Superman: ‘We split up into canoes, I imagine us as Lois and Clark’ (could that be a reference to Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher’s mid-90s moment?) amongst some slacker guitar work, while it soon evolves into a grand TWIABP-esque noise as Keith recalls jumping in the water, although there’s some sadness when he sings: ‘We came out empty-handed’ amidst some burst of brass. ‘Stay Divided’ talks about childhood japes of trying to flip a friend’s parents’ swim raft over after enjoying a swim – and not being able to put it back in the position they found it: ‘It just sat there, like a turtles stuck on its shell’, while ‘You Have to be So Much Better than You Ever Thought’ recalls La Dispute with its loud guitars and stretched vocals as the E!E! (IWALE) (what an acronym!) recall the feeling you get on a scouts’ summer camp when mother nature strikes unexpectedly…

With all these life experiences, it’s no surprise that careers and death also become major themes. On ‘Things Not Worth Fixing’, Keith sincerely reveals how when moving back home to save money for the wedding, he had a low-rent job peddling paint that he really did not give the credit it perhaps deserved: ‘I was not a model employee. I was frequently late and felt my education made me overqualified and that the job was beneath me. I reeked of youth.’ What must rank as one of the lowest points of Keith’s early life is covered in ‘If It’s Bad News, It Can Wait’, as he begins by fondly recalling, amongst some pounding drums and dreamy guitar lines, a holiday taken with his three best friends during his senior year of high school that consisted of video games and venturing into the great outdoors. Showing how death can occur at the most unexpected times, he then goes into detail about how: ‘The phone in our room rang out at an ungodly hour – when only bad things are on the other end’. He describes giving the phone to Danny: ‘So he could hear his brother passed away’. It’s heartbreaking, frightening and sure to raise a tear as we hear about how Danny’s grief overwhelmed him and how hopeless his friends felt in this situation: ‘He threw off our embrace and escaped down the stairs to the beach and haunted the shore of the Atlantic for hours and hours.’ With the emotional resonance that served The Antlers so well on ‘Hospice’ on full display here, you can feel the helplessness of Keith and his friends but also their devotion to their grieving friend: ‘When he came back, we got into the car and drove the twelve hours back home and made it just in time for the funeral’.

You Will Eventually Be Forgotten review

The last song on the album has a hopeful, strong title that celebrates being alive, while also being aware of the complexities of humanity – ‘The Promise that Life Can Go On No Matter How Bad Our Losses’. With the melodic guitar work, this is another ode to Cathy that reveals just how much the couple missed each other when they were forced to spend a New Year’s Eve apart due to work commitments, and how they had to make do with a phone call rather than kissing or holding each other at midnight. Subtle, startling and candid, this is another public display of affection that will just make you feel warm inside, rather than awkward. This compassion is then further established with the finishing mantra, delivered in stadium rock style: ‘Is it still worth putting our lives on hold for?’ You know it definitely is…

A beautiful celebration of life and love that is intimate, emotional and euphoric, this is an album you just have to hear. If you’re fed up of songs that don’t say something and are all style over substance, Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) are here to show that music does still matter and can still speak to you. While ‘You Will Eventually Be Forgotten’, hopefully this album won’t – it must be up there as one of the best of the year.

Oh, and did we mention it’s being released in graphic novel form too?

Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate)‘s ‘You Will Eventually Be Forgotten’ is released by Topshelf Records on 19 August.

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