Pretty Little Empire :

Justin Johnson - Vocals, guitar
William Godfred - Guitar, vocals
Wade Durbin - Bass vocals
Evan O'neal - drums, vocals

Pretty Little Empire's second LP Reasons and Rooms manages to broaden their musical horizon from folk to include early 90's indie punch guitar and post punk. The songwriting is as good as ever and this album finds the band experimenting a little more with new musical textures that still adhere to the tenants of this band's sound. The addition of Evan on drums has made the sound more complex and seems to give Wade some more places to take his bass lines. Justin, Will and Evan all sing commendable lead parts on songs making the overall sound varied. It's fun to try to tag each ones vocals. Also listen for some of the mixes that have dual lead vocals with one persons voice slightly out front, which requires vocal abilities that all of the members posses.

"Now Is The Time" begins with a nice acoustic riff and features great harmonies. This foreshadows the guitar to come. I love how they switch up the pairings of band members on the harmonies. Great opener that doesn't give away the surprise to come.

"Dakotas" is a b-side from the first PLE album Sweet Sweet Hands. It's really cool to see the difference in the song. It's a much fuller song on this record that utilizes Evan's driving drum part and Will's big guitar to make it a quicker louder song. Yet it keeps the shouted chorus and bouncing rhythm that made this song so damn catchy when I heard it as a b-side.

"Island (nc)" feature Evan on lead vocals and some beautiful harmonies that make it a really good song, but I am not sure that the song fits with the rest of the feel of the album. I think the feel of this is more of a southern rock feel.

Strains of the old PLE meet with the new PLE on "Let's Say 'I do'". Love the bounce of this song. Some Sugar style guitars and Justin Johnson's interesting cadence make for a song that will run in your head again and again. The trumpet, played by Jim Manley, gives this song a nice dynamic.

Justin sent me the first version of "Perfect Hearts" that he recorded on his i-phone. Evan's keys and glockenspiel make this a really full sounding version. The break toward the end is really nice and builds to the nice blissful level of a dreamy pop sound that is augmented by Cathie Degler's cello.

"Wasted Days" showcases Evan on drums. I am a sucker for the drums here. Near marching snare roll at the beginning gives way to Evan's controlled jazz bursts. Will's post punk guitars and Wade's thumping bass line make this the highlight of their live set. I wish they had added a little of the hoarse emotive vocals that I have seen them use when playing this song live. It's such a big sound and everyone is in the pocket. So good!

On "Cinnamon Toast" Will sings lead. Even though Justin and Will vocal range is similar, the inflection and cadence are indeed different. This is a post rock song of the first order. Jangly guitars with simple repeating rhythms make for a larger than life sound. Amazing to think this is the same band that put out Sweet Sweet Hands. Again the driving bottom here with Evan playing on and off the cymbals adds another dimension.

Because I was such a big fan of the first album, I was pretty sure I would love this one, and I do. But the few surprises on this album like "Morning's Been Hard" are songs that are surprising and it's exciting to hear the new direction. On this track Evan sings lead and plays keys. The single guitar notes along with the keys make a complete thought expressed which obviously needs input from everyone in the band to achieve the greatness that this song does. Sublime and dense with simple instrumentation this song has everything in the perfect amounts.

"Reasons Are Wrong" is a nod for sure to PLE's roots. It's another song I heard Justin play as an i-phone demo. Such a bright wash of sound was added to this album version. "Don't take anything from a hand that reaches out for you, don't you understand anything anymore" Justin and Evan sing. The trumpets and piano are nice touches.

The closer is "You Can't Have It All" which features screaming guitars and Justin's pleading vocals. "I don't think it's right , when we fight all the time, and you don't want to say where we are". Such simple words that can have multiple implications. This is another song I wished that the vocals on the chorus were allowed to over modulate a bit. It would add to the insistence of Justin's delivery. Maybe I am spoiled with seeing this live and am just trying to hear the live version. So then I can only give this song a 4.75 out of 5.

So this is a powerful follow up album for these really nice guys from St Louis. I listen to so many albums and like so many albums that sometimes they bleed into one another, but this album truly stands on it's own. They have infused their folk/Americana/Western sound with early 90's guitar which is a win and win. They have managed to incorporate the different sounds seamlessly and make their own sound. You can hear hints of yet another shift in their sound that may lean toward the experimental and not rely on classic instrumentation alone. I consider myself fortunate to be friends with these guys and be able to hear all of their various music projects while they are being made. I am thankful to them for that and look forward to the next album!

The guys have put this album up as a FREE DL for the next week in anticipation of their self titled album coming out Sat Oct 19th with a album release show at Off Broadway on that day!


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