Empire Of The Sun released their debut album, Walking On A Dream, in 2008. Characterised by its fusion of synths and guitars, along with the falsetto vocals of Luke Steele, the Australian duo struck inevitable comparisons to MGMT, who had released their debut LP only the year before. However, with their American counterparts long having departed to far more incomprehensible sounds and themes, Empire Of The Sun can finally return and claim this area of music for themselves.
And five years down the line what a return this is: EOTS have not greatly altered their sound, but simply refined and improved it. While their debut suffered from the classic pitfall of a strong first half but unmemorable and over-experimental second half, Ice On The Dune sticks to a winning formula of catchy verses and uplifting choruses throughout. Early release, Alive, has been all over the Internet for a while now, and both its sun-kissed synths and cheesy yet triumphant chorus “Loving every minute ‘cos you make me feel so alive”, make it an instant summer anthem. Another album highlight, DNA, transitions breathtakingly between shimmering guitars in the first verse and pounding bass thereafter. Again the duo’s talent for simplistic but affecting songwriting shines through here: “be mine, be my DNA, don’t want to fade away”.
Elsewhere, Old Flavours feels like a tropical rave, with the drop leading into the song’s final climax being one of the albums best moments. Meanwhile the supremely tranquil I’ll Be Around sounds like Fleetwood Mac on a beach holiday. The duo show a willingness to experiment on Celebrate, which takes them into heavier territories, reminiscent of Justice in its electro/rock fusion. In fact, the majority of the songs here are so unfailingly upbeat and kinetic that it is really only the album’s closer, Keep A Watch, that feels like a massive loss of momentum; slow paced and listless, the band seem to veer into some sort of ugly David Bowie tribute, a huge downer from the brilliant Disarm.
For the most part though, this is a sophomore effort that works on many levels. Granted, Empire Of The Sun remain something of a pastiche of 80s electro-pop music, but with ridiculous costumes and flamboyantly silly live shows this is a label that they seem to embrace; they don’t take themselves altogether seriously. Ice On The Dune remains a collection of relevant and catchy songs that already feels like one of the albums of the summer, but more importantly, like a band finding their feet at long last.