A London-based trio consisting of talented producer Ash Gardner, Hugo Sheppard and Three Trapped Tigers’ Adam Betts, Emperor Yes are the latest band from the Alcopop! roster that will have you grinning from ear to ear. All the way through their debut record, ‘An Island Called Earth’, you’ll be lifted to another planet by their quirks and curiosity. With a charming live show honed by support slots to the likes of Tall Ships and many festival performances already under their belt, it’s a long-awaited record and won’t fail to cheer you up through the cold winter nights ahead.
The record starts in the way all prog-pop albums should – an examination of the forthcoming apocalypse in ‘It’s the End of the World’. Taking in the frogs that came raining down from the sky and how ‘they don’t know what this means’ amidst a kaleidoscopic combination of synths and vocoder-enhanced backing vocals, it’s a surprisingly upbeat sound for such a downbeat theme. Talking of all the different animals as they struggle to survive, there are some oddball sounds scattered throughout – it seems Betts’ remembered to bring some of the samples from his day job. Another previous single, ‘Wasps’, follows this and with its joyous, jerky harmonies and blasts of bubbly guitar sounds, it manages to combine an examination of the fear these insects bring out in us – the human race – with a surprisingly touching message of love: ‘Time to get together, show what we can do, you hold onto me… I hold onto you’.
The next couple of songs have an out-of-this-world theme; ‘Cosmic Cat’ is a smoother, sexier and slower track that discusses the state of a cat as he heads into places unknown. There’s a touch of sadness and wonder as Gardner sings: ‘The cat was staring at 10,000 years of sand’, while The Flaming Lips-esque dream pop of ‘Cosmos’ opens with a skewed quote from the late, famed astronomer Carl Sagan (a later track is also named after him): ‘The cosmos is all there was and all there and all there ever will be’. An ode to mankind’s need for progression and desire to break boundaries, it discusses weighty issues with a deft touch, aided by Gardner’s fragile voice and the repeated line of ‘Yet we’re young and curious’. Things take a break from the all-out pop with the rather more disconcerting ‘Mirror’; amongst Jeremy Warmsley’s Quincy Jones-style production it finds Gardner repeating how his ‘laughter sounds like a barking dog’. There’s more animal action on ‘Monkey King’, sadly not a song about Ian Brown, but one that again takes the listeners on another journey into outer space. A ‘Drinking in LA’-style opening treads its way carefully into electro-pop territory that recounts a space battle involving a monkey, planets, stars and mystical powers. If they want the next Planet of the Apes soundtrack to head into a different direction, they could do worse than give Emperor Yes a call…
Gardner’s broken vocals have a tenderness that recalls Tim Delaughter of the Polyphonic Spree, while Emperor Yes’ wider sound also harks back to the cultish Texans mixed with Fight Like Apes and Super Furry Animals – but only if every member had spent seven days straight playing the Sugar Rush game from Wreck-It Ralph – and developed an obsessive interest with science, historyand nature. There’s also a touch of Summer Camp in the unadulterated optimism of ‘Paramesse to Tanis’, which recalls the positive impact the building of the Pyramids had: ‘If you help me pull this mountain across the burning desert, there’s nothing we cannot do’.
‘Living Solar Panels’ gleefully recalls all the things that we rely on the sun for (‘Trees that lived for 5,000 years’; ‘Astronauts and their moon landings’) before launching into an unashamedly big sing-along of repeated vocodered ‘We all need solar panels’. The final track on the album is another familiar favourite – ‘Fishes’. With the statement that ‘Fish only know how to live under water’ and discussion of how ‘We have more options than them’, it’s a euphoric end to an album full of energy and verve. Being an Alcopop! Records release, there’s also a cool physical format – the vinyl contains sprinkled fragments of an asteroid which crashed into earth during the 16th century inside it!
‘An Island Called Earth’ is released via Alcopop! Records on 13 October 2014.