The Underground: O Emperor – Hither Thither

Welcome to The Underground (or Notes from the Underground if you’re a Dostoyevsky nerd), a weekly segment in which I examine the very best in unsigned, undiscovered and underground music. It’s my goal to highlight and hopefully promote talented artists who have yet to receive the attention they deserve. If you know of (or are!) a band/artist you think should be featured on The Underground, please give them a shout out in the comments below, or alternatively you can tweet me their info @AnOrangeFellow.

I always find Underground Alt Rock to be a perplexing, enormous umbrella. So much rock on Bandcamp gets filed away under this label almost by default – to the point where if one is actually looking for it, they get lost amid the artists. If you’re lucky, though, when scouring through the bric-a-brac at The Great Car Boot Sale that is Bandcamp, you may just find a shining, brilliant diamond of an album amongst the knick knacks. Hither Thither is one such gem.

From the excellent first track, something just feels so right about Hither Thither. Oddly enough (and for reasons I’ll cover in a second), more than anything it feels like you’re listening to an album you were anticipating; like the long-awaited follow-up to some imaginary acclaimed début, and to your joy they’ve still got it. A great deal of this comes down to the fact that the songwriting style present on Hither Thither is just so tight and compact. Everything crescendo, tone-shift, tempo-shift, breakdown and flourish happens exactly when it needs to. O Emperor have a sound on Hither Thither that’s been so fine-combed that you constantly feel as if you’re figuring out the music just as it’s happening. On a lesser album, this may make the songs come off as predictable, but there’s enough inventiveness on Hither Thither that rather, it sounds refined. For example, again, look no further than the album’s opening track;

“Don Quixote”’s strength comes from its ability to maintain the same rhythm, chord progression and beat whilst at the same time always keeping itself engaging. It’s always recognisably the same song, though it reinvents itself and remains interesting throughout. This is a songwriting style present throughout Hither Thither, though it it feels most prominent on records opening and closing tracks. Which may actually be a bit of an issue – much as I love “Don Quixote” and “The Fat Lady Sings” – I can’t help but feel that the album being bookended by its (in my opinion) two strongest songs is somewhat detrimental – though that’s just a pacing concern. In truth, there’s worth to most all of the tracks on the album, from the terrific, creeping explosion that is “Taloned Air” to the dark-yet-catchy “Catch 22” to the desperate, wailing guitar of “December”. The albums weakest moments amount to little more than interludes – “Heisenberg” is atmospheric and breaks the pace well, but is a tad underdeveloped, while “To the Sea” promises a pay-off that never really fully materialises.

Hither Thither is an album that, when it comes down to it, is just rewarding as all heck to listen to. It’s a cool, memorable example of the genre done right, and well worth taking home from he heap.

Listen to and purchase (for only 12 Euros!) Hither Thither here.

Like O Emperor on Facebook here.

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