Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Empty Mirror uses an unusual jumping-off point for its sound

February 2, 2010

It is sad that when grunge pretty much died in 1994, the post-grunge movement chose Nirvana as the jumping-off point instead of Smashing Pumpkins. The musical output of Billy Corgan and Co. was much more progressive and provided more potential artistic avenues than that of Cobain, Grohl and Novoselic. Fans of Nirvana got dozens of soundalike bands to help them through their grief. Fans of Smashing Pumpkins got…more Smashing Pumpkins.

For those who wish there was more Corgan to go around, I present to you The Empty Mirror’s Abstracted Catholic Opus (they refuse to label it an EP). Fuse the early nineties sound of Pumpkins with some modern production values and a bit of indie-rock pompousness, and you’ve got Abstracted Catholic. If you’re a fan of Corgan, you are allowed to foam at the mouth a bit. If you’re decidedly anti-Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, you may need to look away now.

These five songs are short, punchy and full of attitude. While bandleader Grant Valdes is cut from the same cloth as Corgan in terms of pretentiousness and guitar aesthetic, these songs are not mere Pumpkins rip-offs. There’s a modern indie aesthetic attached to these songs that’s hard to put a finger on until you listen to Pumpkins songs for contrast. The mood of Abstracted Catholic (which the one-sheet calls nightmericana, interestingly) is highly important and carefully developed through use of bass, neutral space, and other songwriting mechanisms. The Empty Mirror isn’t just pounding out the rock with a grating sneer over it (as the other band I keep mentioning revels in doing). They’re writing songs, not just rock songs.

When all is said and done, fans of Smashing Pumpkins will find much to love here. Fans of thoughtful indie rock can find things to appreciate as well, as Valdes is a good songwriter. There’s a lot of ways that The Empty Mirror can go to break away from the Pumpkins comparisons, as the band has left a lot of loose ends of their sound unexplored. I’m not sure, however, if that’s something they want to break away from. Interesting, but not long-term listening.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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