It’s been quite a year for London-based electropop outfit Empathy Test. The band, formed by Isaac Howlett and Adam Relf, had already built up a groundswell of interest via a series of EP releases prior to the autumn 2017 launch of their debut albums Losing Touch and Safe From Harm (see the TEC review here). Sharing the stage with the likes of Mesh didn’t harm their upper trajectory much either.
But the albums (which Empathy Test performed live in their entirety at London’s Underbelly in November 2017) somehow managed to lay down strong foundations for the future. They achieved critical acclaim on the back of those albums, while also embarking on successful live outings, including some European festival dates and the chance to showcase their albums for newer audiences.
When we spoke to Empathy Test in 2017, Isaac Howlett was already contemplating album No. 3. “The good thing about Adam being not as into the live side of things is that he stays focused on making new music. It’s very easy to get caught up with the gigging, touring and releasing and forget the creative side of things”.
As a result, a new double A-side single has emerged boasting two new Empathy Test compositions. Both continue the tradition of the outfit’s shrewd ability to craft touching electronic pop, while also hinting at an evolution of Empathy Test’s sound.
‘Holy Rivers’ has a captivating, sepulchral quality to it. As a song, it harkens back to the twilight palette that Losing Touch delivered so well. Lyrically, the song has an introspective quality that trades on ideas of uncertainty (“Hearts are heavy/Overcome with doubt”).
Meanwhile, ‘Incubation Song’ goes for a more spacey composition that works with themes of anxiety and isolation (“Rejuvenate me/Come and take me away”). There’s a warm, lush aspect to the song that’s augmented by some nicely layered synth moods.
Meanwhile, a series of remixes are also available that work up the songs in very different styles. Man Without Country strips ‘Holy Rivers’ back for a starker, more isolated take on the track. Similarly, The New Division transform ‘Incubation Song’ into a much more angular arrangement with more focus on the electronic elements.
Both songs show that Empathy Test have lost little of their talent for melody and mood. It also suggests that the follow-up album to their debut(s) will match the quality of those earlier releases – and may even surpass them.
Empathy Test are not an outfit to rest for long. The band are already lining up more live dates, including support slots in 2019 for both VNV Nation in the UK and Covenant in Europe. Next year may prove to be one of the band’s most productive periods – and a third album will certainly be a welcome addition to that success.
Holy Rivers/Incubation Song is out now.
Empathy Test perform live tonight supporting Man Without Country at The Old Blue Last, London.
Details on their forthcoming live shows are available via: https://www.empathytest.com/shows
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.