The Federal Empire
Bad Habits is available at:
Los Angeles, U.S.A.
The E.P., The American Dream, is available at:
BECAUSE I will not be assessing too many bands before the end of…
this year; it is worth concentering on one that is already making people listen and stand to attention. I have mentioned all the great bands coming out of London: L.A. is also another area that is producing some rather excellent acts. Before I come to the band in question, I want to return to L.A. music and who will be making it big in 2017; the bands who, in America especially, will be attuning to a new way of life given Trump’s presidency and the reason why we should all pay closer attention to the best groups coming through. That initial point – L.A. musicians and their merits – is something I have been extolling most of this year. You do not need to know your music to know how many great groups have come from Los Angeles. The same could be said of New York and London: Los Angeles is one of the most important and relevant areas of music in history. Not to mention the likes of Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine; newer bands like Warpaint and icons such as The Doors and Gun N’ Roses – hardly slacking when it comes to producing fantastic offspring. I feel a lot of us here (the U.K.) only really hear about L.A. music through radio and the media. It seems, like many people out there, we are not that adventurous and do not really make a concerted effort to seek bands out. I, as part of my job, keep my eyes peeled and always keen to see which bands/acts are being talked about in the U.S. New York is, perhaps, better when it comes to solo artists and genres like Rap and Hip-Hop: L.A. seems peerless when considering harder genres like Rock and Alternative – a few of the names I have listed are testament to that. This year, the likes of Los Angeles Police Department – who released their eponymous debut E.P. in 2014 – have been developing and building on their early success. Bones, and his unique gothic raps, have been intriguing critics and showing just what he is made of. Throw in Death Valley Girls and you have an all-terrain-ready assault of Punk, fuzz and rebellion. They are a unit that has been making marks – one suspects to stages across the U.S. – this year and will be looking to build on that in 2017.
MRK is one of the most individual and unique artists you will find in the U.S. – these tips have come from L.A. Weekly. She has been compared with Kate Bush but has elements of stripped-down Pop and digital facets to her music – not to mention videos like River of Blood certainly stick in the mind. Powers are a suave, cool and sensual duo that have written for mainstream giants like Kylie Minogue but are not neglecting their own material: ensuring they are slinky, sexy and hot as Hell. That is really an overview of the L.A. artists who have been impressing critics this year. Of course, there are many more and we should all be more wary of the talent that is out there. If we look ahead and there is a big opportunity for L.A. musicians to strike and effect. There have not been too many (if any) polls conducted this year recommending the Los Angeles musicians worth investigating next year – the same goes with London and a certain lack of foresight from the media. If you are looking for a band relevant and urgent, you cannot go far wrong with The Federal Empire. Chad Wolf, Keith Varon and McKay Stevens complete the trio and have just released (in October) their E.P. It seems like a very apt and ironic title given the political unfolding in the U.S. – I will come to that a bit later. The boys have been performing for a while but seem, now, at their most solid and extraordinary. The E.P., I shall pick apart later in this review, has been amazing fans and getting new ears pointing in their direction. It is all encouraging and, before I come to some good points, want to urge the lads to get their websites sorted out. This is a point I labour and exhaust beyond words but feel The Federal Empire would benefit more biography and insight.
Their official website points to their social media/music-sharing sites but gives scant detail about who they are and where they came from; the kind of acts that inspired them and their views on Trump. Of course, social media helps a bit (and they update regularly) but too many artists are neglecting their biography and forcing the listener to guess and fill in blanks. That is okay to an extent – and it is good letting the music take focus –but it would make bands like The Federal Empire more fleshed-out and appealing were we to know more of them; have a few interviews laid out there and glean more about the fellas. No matter because there are bigger nuts to crack. I opened by saying I’d look at L.A. bands making it big in 2017 and The Federal Empire can be added to that list. The tastemakers have been a little slow off the blocks this year and I am sure, in the next few weeks, the first polls and lists unveiled. I am excited to see who will be included and whether they (the lists) will be band or solo-heavy. In the past, L.A. was celebrated because of its solo acts and what they produce: I feel bands are becoming more relevant and vital in the current landscape. Although The Federal Empire are not, strictly speaking, a political band: they are performing in a time where there is a lot of anger and confusion wafting around America. In fact, looking at their E.P. track Never Saw It Coming: that song title could be written about the election result and what is happening in America now. L.A. is, as I showed with a few of the classic acts, synonymous with its Rock bands and those who address societal issues. Rage Against the Machine are one of the most political and an act you wouldn’t bet against mounting a revival and getting back out there – I know Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha will not be sitting idly and accepting what is happening in The White House. My general point is the fact bands are going to become more important and motivated in 2017 America. Were Hilary Clinton elected then there would be calmer people; I feel there’d be fewer protest songs and disgruntled musicians. As it stands, there is a large faction of pissed off musicians that are shell-shocked and angry. The tone of music will change and there is going to be a lot of frustration channelled into songs. The Federal Empire, on their latest E.P., look more at personal issues and friends; relationships and the sort of subjects most artists document. I imagine, if another E.P. were to arrive next year, it might be more focused on how the country is changing and addressing the imbalance and insanity.
PHOTO CREDIT: @bttags
It is still hard to believe how the election played out but there must be a reason (other than stupidity) people voted for Trump – maybe those who voted for him wanted someone straight-talking and confident? It is going to be interesting seeing how Trump and musicians transition in the next few months and what happens. Being Democrat territory; L.A. must be especially unctuous and aghast the result. The Federal Empire’s music sounds more urgent and compelling given the unfolding events and I suspect the band will be looking to incorporate more political themes into their music next year. We should be looking at bands next year as I feel they are going to be the most relevant type of musician playing. Solo artists will be creating sensational music but I feel, given general malaise and unrest, it is groups that will be striking hardest. It is going to be exciting seeing how The Federal Empire develop and just what they can come up with next. I know the trio takes great pride in The American Dream (as they should) but its title takes on a new, rather ironic twist given the recent happenings. Next year will be busy for them and they are going to capitalise on their momentum and support. If previous years have seen celebration and acclaim provided to solo artists – that is going to change now I feel. The Federal Empire, with their name alone, strike you as a unit and political party: a rebel alliance that has the potential to galvanise and unify people and inspire others. The American Dream is a wonderful start and an E.P. that shows just what an emphatic and impressive force they are.
It is hard to compare The American Dream with anything else as this is the first offering from the L.A. trio. The E.P. is stunning and packed with plenty of energy and huge vocals; some more refined Pop moments and hypnotic tracks. The guys have created a buzz over the last two months and the E.P.’s lead-off single, I Never Liked Your Friends, reached number eight on Hype Machine’s trending list – the E.P.’s title track was added to Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist. L.A. sources like All Things Go, Ones to Watch and The Daily Listening have lauded the band and the guys have been playing some of the finest venues around the city – touring with Dandy Warhols and Lindsey Stirling. Whilst it is hard comparing their material one can get a sense of where they have come from and where they are going. The guys formed after a publisher requested their write songs for acts like The Chainsmokers and David Guetta. It was only after a couple of tracks were penned the boys realised the chemistry and bond were impossible to ignore. This realisation has led to a band that provides classic Americana songwriting with Electronic strands and the sort of gang vocals that are much-needed and desired in the modern landscape. The guys will be vibing off the acclaim they have received and the respect they have accrued from local media. Into 2017, they will look at recording new material and getting more out there; expanding on what they have already done and making a bigger name for themselves.
PHOTO CREDIT: @bttags
I wanted to focus on Bad Habits not just because of its title – that gets me thinking of The Last Shadow Puppets – but where it sits in the E.P. line-up. The opening track is the excitement of new love with a bit of an unpredictable twist. The girl comes along and turns the hero’s heart upside-down. That bond and passion are huge and you get a tangible feeling or lovers that could be bonded for ages. The third track sees the heroine (whether the same one) castigated and sleeping with another man; at her friends’ place and self-destructing – a group of friends that have been a bad influence and very unwise in their attitudes and decisions. In a way, Bad Habits is an explanation and insight into the downfall; the black box that explains how things manage to change from perfect to horrific. It is a vital track that not only transforms the direction and attitudes of the E.P. but is the strongest cut from the set. The song, rather than blame the heroine or investigate her follies, looks at the heroes and his ‘quirks’. The track opens with island-vibe and sunny strings; there's a definite rush and a typical serotonin burst from the L.A. faction. The guys bring the track up and expend enough energy in the introduction so the listener is enticed in and gets some chance for guessing. When the lyrics do arrive, there are some rather colourful and standout images. Our guy is a chain-smoking, tattoo-heavy chap that chases the curvaceous and satisfying. Among that sybaritic rider is cigarettes and poker; late nights and a party lifestyle. In a way, hearing the track unfold, reassess my views of the follow-on track and the title slice for that reason. The American Dream looks at figures who embrace the cheap and shallow way of life: the band deliver it in such a way that suggest that is the face of America and something that should be purged. The fact the hero seems to fit into this mould (a little) makes you wonder about the sincerity and angle of the song – whether it (the title song) is an attack on those types of a confession that many people fall into that way of living naturally.
Again, I look at the third track and the fall-out – where the heroine is staying at friends and sleeping about a bit. It might not be surprising she fell for the guy (given the similarities and the allure of someone a bit rebellious and rough around the edges) but she has immersed herself in that life and embraced all its heady and dangerous sides. Getting back to the song and you are struck by this new-found truth and look at the song differently. In a sense, the hero should be blamed a little as he seems to have led the girl astray and caused a lot of the issues. This is something he admits to an extent – the line “That I’m one (bad habit)…no good for you” – seems to be his disclaimer and way of distancing himself from responsibility. The song, in a way, is something that could have been set in the time of James Dean and the leather-clad film idols. Acting like a companion piece to Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die and Honeymoon albums – where Lizzie Grant fell for tattooed hunks and revelled in the top-down, trousers-down sweat of the open road – and casts its mind around the ‘50s and ‘60s. If The Federal Empire do not have the lush orchestration and smoky vocals of Lana Del Rey: their music is more focused, modern and masculine. There is a laddishness to the song, especially when the vocals unite and practically shout, and one can hear a bit of Imagine Dragons in that sense. The song has a split of emotions and dynamics which appeals to different parts of the body. The lyrics and confessions beg for a more regretful and contemplative delivery but what we get is something unapologetic, defiant and drunken.
It is a song that has a certain shallowness but it is intended as honesty and openness. The hero knows he is not perfect but he fits into that idea of The American Dream: the pursuit of the cheap and accessible; surrendering to an inevitable decline. You sort of sympathise with the lead and the fact he is just a product of the American system – a Californian ‘ideal’ that many subscribe to. At every stage, the spirit is there and there is no letup in the West Coast hoe-down. Our hero sees the girl look at him and wonders if she’s lying to herself. He knows he is a bad habit (a strange addiction) but she is tempted to that for a reason. There is a psychology at play and it is not as simple as sexual attraction and escapism. Why would a girl, who, at this point, is undefined and seems pure, be swayed by someone who has a Devil nagging on his shoulder? Not only does it provide tantalising backstory but explains some of the actions and results that occur later in the E.P. Bad Habits is a resounded success from the band and song impossible to dislike. Yeah, it deals with a central figure who has fewer good points than bad but he is admitting that. He is, as it goes in the song, human and we all have these proclivities and addictions. Few will walk away feeling any guilt or dislike for the hero: you are left satisfied and recruited into The Federal Empire and more than happy to dedicate yourself to their mission – one that involves losing yourself once in a while and having fun.
Before concluding things, and going into a bit more depth of the E.P.’s remaining tracks, it is worth going back to my original points and looking at the boys’ future. The Federal Empire released their debut E.P. in October at a time when the U.S. was uncertain and very fearful. Although they are not directly concerned with political messages and the type of band that write about that sort of thing: no musician in the country could ignore what was happening and how their nation was changing. That transformation will become more defined and alarm into 2017 and will motivate many artists to say something about it. Never has there been such a feeling of disgust and unrest in the U.S. (not for a while at least) and I expect music to become a lot sharper and more urgent next year. I stated how solo artists have been grabbing headlines and the most attention. That will shift and I cannot wait to see the bands that will emerge strong very shortly. The Federal Empire sit in a city (at a time) where there is a great opportunity to make impressions and big strides. There are very few bands in the mainstream I have been impressed by and stand in the memory for too long – the solo acts have made the biggest impact in 2016. It is going to be interesting discovering the bands making waves and I know The Federal Empire will be among them. Los Angeles is that epicentre of history, culture and musical excellence: a place that has seen some of music’s true titans grow and conquer. I looked at some of the Rock acts that call L.A. home but there is enough variation and range to satisfy any musical taste. L.A. is a fascinating area and a natural Mecca for musicians. I have been bowled over by the sheer confidence and talent of the artists playing out of the city. The band, by comparison, have been a little quiet but I am starting to hear changes and seeing that shift occur. Groups, whether trios, quartets or larger, have always been relevant and we should not assume solo artists are the biggest draw in music. Even if acts like Beyoncé have been topping end-of-year lists and getting critics hot: the next year is going to see many more bands rise and create stunning albums.
If The Federal Empire can get their social media sorted out a bit – I only learned about their past through their P.R./management – then more fans would be enticed and it would provide much more scope and clarity. As things stand, the guys are making their music do the talking and a good job of it too. I am not suggesting they overhaul everything and redesign their websites: in a modern, competitive age, there is no real excuse for being a little slack in these areas. The guys are striking hot and they should be added to the list of ones to watch in 2017. Whether we will see a paradigm shift and huge revolution in music I am not sure. I hope artists around the world do not get caught up in petulance and anger and focus those emotions into something more creative and inspiring. Out of the horror and disappointment of the U.S. election result, here is a time where musicians can speak louder and become more relevant than ever before. I know there will be a lot of people trying to erase the memories of 2016 but we can learn a lot and take heart from it. In musical terms, this year has been fantastic and a lot of future stars are starting to make their move. I love The Federal Empire and the way they work. Their story and creation is natural and charming: the guys have that affection for one another and that comes through in their music clearly. I hope the boys get over to Europe and come and play the U.K. very soon. I know there will be a lot of attention and respect for them over here. I have seen a few U.S. bands come over here in 2016 – city-mates The Vim Dicta had a long residency over here – and I can imagine The Federal Empire afforded the same hospitality and affection. I know London will produce a kind and opportunistic house: lots of venues waiting for them and a city similar to L.A. in terms of variegation, talent and energy.
Never Saw It Coming opens with spirit and hand-claps; light strings and an overall bounce and uplift. The hero sings about being lost and in a place that was confusing and rather strange. Perhaps it was a predictable and safe life but one that was lacking that spark and excitement. Soon enough, a girl came along and changed all that. Turning life upside down; there is that inexplicable and invisible force that gets into the heart and makes life so much better. Although the song does not address new themes or provide too much originality; it is the way the guys write the song and deliver their words that make the song so impressive. They do not overwhelm the song with electronics and processed sounds – everything is very natural and honest. The song looks at the heroine as an addiction and sugar. She is sweet and hot; she’s alluring and deceptive – captivating the mind and intoxicating the senses. Our hero never saw things coming and could not predict life would work out like it has. The guys write a song that has charm and plenty of energy coming in. The chorus brings more force and verve in; the vocals chant and the composition throws colours and flavours together. It is a song that contains nuance, in spite of its urgency and simplicity, and a song you will come back to for a sense of release and encouragement. Its spirit lacks cynicism and is perfectly attuned to the desires of 2016 – a song that puts a smile on the face. Similarly, I Never Liked Your Friends makes you grin but for a different reason. “I wished you well/even though you’re sleeping with somebody else” is a sentiment that could have been delivered with spite and sarcasm. The band almost delivers it tongue-in-cheek and matter-of-fact. The track looks at regrets and the heroine making mistakes. You can see The American Dream as a concept album on love, honesty and relationships. If songs like Never Saw It Coming is the prelude and first chapter; the moment it all clicks and the romance blooms – this is the time when cracks are showing and deception reigns. At every stage, the song remains dignified and strong: the composition has that fizzing, vibrant and non-stop movement.
The girl is keeping bad company and hanging around people (the hero) was wary of and not happy about. She is strung-out and falling; she is down the bottom of a hole and there is no way out. I am not sure what caused the infidelity and relationship break-up – one suspects a differing worldview and too many arguments – but there seems to be little resentment and blame. The hero is concerned about his former love and seeing the place she is in right now. The anger and accusation are aimed at friends and not the heroine. Perhaps they are the ones who have been pulling the strings and showing very little conscience. The sheer vitality and explosion one feels during the chorus – with those gang vocals and huge weight – is tremendous. The boys never cheapen things by throwing it all into the mix and hoping something sticks; they do not bring down the mood but still deliver an important message. You know they have written for some of Pop’s best names and you can hear that commercial edge and radio-friendly flair. Usually I am not too enamoured of chart-ready music and the sort of songs that are designed for a particular demographic – predominantly teens and those who do not really know quality music. The Federal Empire are a lot more credible and strong and transcend easy criticism with their infectiousness, songwriting quality and consistency. Skilled writers who know how to deliver a song and get people singing: The American Dream is rife with bangers and tracks that get the body moving. In spite of the acid and vivid scenes that unfold throughout I Never Liked Your Friends; you remember it for its catchiness and deliriousness in addition to the earnestness of the performances. The title track has already gained a lot of respect and it is not hard seeing why. It is the most original song and one that gives new light to the E.P. title. The American Dream, as seen here, has a teenage edge and a certain sloth-like attitude.
PHOTO CREDIT: @bttags
Smoking weed in a “Netflix nation” (almost the kind of line Green Day would deliver) there is a mixture of apathy and commentary. The burger-eating, supersized person; the type that yearns for apple pie, fast food and faster pleasures – being given a certain undressing thorough. The message of the song seems to be this: people want what they want and not what they need. The song’s hero, whether the frontman or a visualisation of a typical American, just wants fast cars and mansions; they want to get head, go to bed and party until the small hours. It seems, given the Republican movement, that way of life has transferred into government. Trump seems like the type who would recommend and patronise that sort of immaturity and recklessness – presuming the party-goers were white and not of Mexican origin! The song, like all the rest on the E.P., has a rousing coda and infectious chorus; the boys come together and give it stomp and spit. The lyrics are enticing and interesting as there is that judgmental edge but you wonder whether they (or their peers) embrace this lifestyle without irony. It is a song that gets you thinking but stick in the memory too.
Those L.A.-like dream ideals – shallow girls and the kind of poser that should be eradicated from the landscape – paints a picture of America – one that has been proffered by musicians, artists and tourist boards for decades. The reality of Los Angeles, and America too is somewhere more dignified, substantial and intelligent. The Federal Empire leave some doubts – how much of this way of life do they take in and ignore – which is a perfect way to end things. The entire E.P. seems to breeze by and you are longing for more at the very end. Each of the four songs gets right into the mind and impresses with its solid songwriter and variation of themes. I keep playing the songs and caught by the energy and passion the band throws in every second. Not just another Pop/Rock band who are aimed at the charts with little in the way of grit and credibility – the guys are a strong and hungry band that have the authority and sound to mix it with the best bands coming through right now. Make sure you check the E.P. out and discover music that not only gives us a glimpse into 2017 but…
LIFTS the mood and appeals to all of the senses.
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