When I Used to Be a Sparrow‘s Luke appeared last year, I praised its “interesting and unique” take on indie rock but complained that they pushed the “anthem” button too often. The duo has corrected that oversight on You Are an Empty Artist, creating a more intimate collection of tunes that yet resists navelgazing. These songs weren’t written as stadium crushers, although they might turn out that way if the band’s passion, composition chops and infectious melodies have anything to say about it.
The chiming guitar tone and soaring, U2-esque guitar melodies from Luke are largely retained but modified in a critical way: instead of being thrown way up in the mix, the guitars take an equal seat with the vocals and rhythm section (“Spring Knows Where You Live,” “I’ve Got the Feeling We Are Not in Kansas Anymore”). This creates an egalitarian atmosphere in the arrangements, letting the listener’s ear roam about. By taking the focus off one thing, they put the focus on everything. Songs like “I’ve Got…” live up to that treatment, as the rhythms, melodies, and intricacies are a joy to listen to. But by keeping the pace quick and focusing on singable vocal melodies, the songs don’t ever veer toward guitar noodling.
The insistent pace and excellent chorus of “Cannonball” mark it as a highlight, while “Always the Runner” stands out by slowing the pace down and showing off a different side of the band. But from opener “Laura” to closer “July,” I Used to Be a Sparrow doesn’t disappoint. Their instrumental palette is still largely stable throughout, and I’d love to hear them experiment with some more sounds in future releases. But as it stands, You Are an Empty Artist does a good job of meeting its own ideals and eschewing vapidity in its work. That’s a worthy coda to any review.