“Winter,” “Wanderer,” “Woods” — that alliterative trifecta of song titles should paint an accurate enough picture of what you’ll be getting from Idle Empress on their self-titled debut release. But the Eau Claire-based trio are anything but chilly; instead, they’re warm as all hell and often empowering in their gloom. “Someday I’m gonna find it/ Reclaim my own autonomy,” Lauren Anderson sings on the opening track. “My love goes unrequited/ It leaves a ghost, and it’s haunting me.”
The band’s crisp and mild folk-rock would likely catch the ear of another musician who put their hometown on the map, but there’s a humor and a liveliness here that is often missing on Justin Vernon’s rawer songs. “Attribute your depression to your grandfather’s death,” Anderson recounts on “Wanderer.” “And sell his belongings, not a single one left but an old Cadillac/ And you decided to jet, and take up cosplaying as Professor X.” That levity gives way to some gut-clenching realizations though, like one of my favorite lines on the EP: “We are broken, we are young/ We show the colors of our hearts strung out on our sleeves/ With bodies that cling to our own uncertainties.”
Each song is impeccably arranged by the band — every instrument slides and sways and thuds lightly, building an atmosphere that sounds still, peaceful, and inviting. The punchiest they get is on “Woods,” which borrows its lyrics from a Mary Oliver poem, and fills it out with pinpricks of noise and culminates in a choir of voices shouting out in discord. Largely, though, Idle Empress is content with plucking at life’s impossibilities with a steady hand: “There’s some really dark places in the corners of my mind/ No comfort embraces and I can’t sing in time anymore.” Listen below.
Idle Empress is out now.