Horns covered in a grimy bass dirge slither their way to the forefront of a blistering mix riddled with abrasive volume in “All Stems (Ready to Fast-Forward Now),” one of nine stylish tracks that make up The Mere, the previously unfinished final album by The Empty Mirror that is out now everywhere that indie music is sold and streamed. To summarize The Mere in a single line would be next to impossible for anyone who consumes the visceral string play of “Thinking in Tongues,” effervescent bassline of “Fatehandler (For an Insignificant Man)” and crushing resonance of “Keep it Real” in the manner that they were meant to be; as loudly as possible with few to no interruptions in the natural order of the tracks. It’s by no means The Empty Mirror’s The Wall, but The Mere does exceed any sort of expectations that I had as a fan coming into this review. This record sees the band fusing the ambient surrealism that they experimented with in Overwhelm with a dissonance that is delightfully brutal, unforgiving and bears a strong resemblance to the sonic intensity of post-punk’s most cherished forerunners.
The lyrics in songs like “Clownishness,” the title track and “Breakfast at Midnight” are sharp as butcher knives and provide a sense of clarity amidst the suffocating atmosphere of noir-esque bass and drum violence, which bleeds into the black and white construction of the songs and shades the pop edge of The Empty Mirror, leaving only the most carnal elements of their sound intact. There are moments where the band embraces light swing, such as “Two Drink Minimum to Leave the Beach,” and others where they’re so focused on the feeling of impending doom that meets us in the first few bars of the title track and overtakes “All Stems (Ready to Fast-Forward Now)” that we become preoccupied by the jarring nuances in the master mix. Despite its clusters of ferocity and sinister harmonies, by the time “Inedia (Naked Girl)” finishes us off at the end of the record, we feel more like we’ve just experienced a work of cinema than we have only another pop/rock album from a classic, though terribly underrated, indie band.
The Mere, put simply, is a poignant, unforgettable dreamscape broken into nine tracks that vault between the bleak and the boisterous, finding a soft center somewhere between the two that is perhaps the most powerful gift The Empty Mirror could have ever given us. Grant Huling did the world an incredible favor by finishing these raw tapes and producing the record that we had always hoped to one day see, and though it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see any more unreleased material by The Empty Mirror come out of the woodwork in the future, this LP brings their fascinating artistic journey to an amazingly satisfying conclusion. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a lot of really amazing records this winter, but this is undoubtedly the most haunting from beginning to end. Although its name would imply differently, The Mere is a watershed release from an iconic staple band of the American underground.