Rival Empire is a band that likes to have fun. Alongside evoking the spirit of the 1980s, its three members playfully recreate passages from past iconic songs and artists. With shades of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the trio navigates its way through electronic sounds and fresh synth pop with some quirky lyrics. They like to observe modern life and its idiosyncrasies.
Based in Chicago, they are Steve Rivera (all electronic instruments: drums, bass, and guitar plus vocals, piano, and synths – also the composer and producer), Matt Koliopoulos (lead vocals and main lyricist) and Tim Franz (rhythm and lead guitar).
Their self-titled album, “Rival Empire” (released 1st, August 2014) contains 13 tracks. They are keen to acknowledge the sources of their ‘sampling’ and cultural references and what they describe as “repurposed lyrics”, some of which achieve a surreal effect.
Beginning with dramatic kettle drums, “Cameo Crush” references American model/actress, Christy Brinkley. “Casino”, which warns of the perils of gambling, includes the band’s take on tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies from Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies”.
Two versions of “Calling Me” appear, with the Orchestral Remix version lending more gravitas to its basic pop. “Good Love” has a reggae feel and a great arrangement. “Payback’s A B_h” is also reggae-infused. This is more hard-hitting – payback’s a bitch – a song with attitude and great rock guitar. I’d like to hear more like this one from the band.
Strange sentiments are expressed on this album, as in “Gasoline (interlude)”- love’s like gasoline. However, the most intriguing track is “Reagan’s Rancho Del Cielo”. Heaven knows what it’s about, but it’s nutty and fun. Snippets of ex-President Ronald Reagan making speeches supplements the main thrust of the song, which is that Nancy has a secret, a dirty little secret. Naturally, they wonder what would Reagan say? But that’s not all; Phil Collins, the man himself, chips in with one more night, a line from from one of his biggest hits. Rancho Del Cielo was Reagan’s Californian vacation ranch where he entertained heads of state. Of all the tracks, I think this Reaganite enigma and “Payback’s A B_h” are the strongest.
I like the way their minds work, and my hope is that the next album will have a beefier track listing, with an increase in the number of really strong songs. I’m rooting for this because I’ve a feeling they’re capable of more.
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