Empty Set is a two-piece band from the Midlands, comprising of vocalist Tommy Ogden and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Simons. Though the first sound on As Neat As A New Pin may be an ukuele, to pigeon hole them as simply a folk-pop outfit would be doing them a disservice and would fail to give proper credit to Simons’ clever instrumentation. Throughout their debut album there are hints of distorted tape loops, dashes of synth and droning violas that provide a counterpoint to Ogden’s delicate vocals and save it from becoming a too twee folk album.
Their willingness to challenge themselves is best demonstrated by their take on The Jesus And Mary Chain’s ‘Some Candy Talking’. Staying faithful to the intent and form of the original, Empty Set manage to recreate the volume and intensity of the original with their fairly limited means. Soft, whispered vocals are paired with tortured viola strings and reverb soaked guitar to re-create the wall of sound approach of the Reid brothers.
The opening and closing song set the parameters in which Empty Set works on As Neat As A New Pin. ‘Portia, I Dreamt You Were Real’ appears in two forms. As the opening song, it begins as a gentle lament for voice and ukuele, before being joined by a rumbling synth and an eccentric violin line, recalling the folk meets fuzz of Neutral Milk Hotel. Appearing again as the last song on the album, and with the alternate title of ‘Portia, I Dreamt You Were A Princess’, the song is completely re-imagined with vocals being juxtaposed against a dense electronic soundscape, not dissimilar to that of The Knife or The Postal Service. It is between these two points that As Neat As A New Pin exists; sometimes it behaves as a typical folk album, all soft vocals and delicate ukuele, other times it veers off into a soundtrack of tape loops and droning strings. It’s this willingness to experiment, coupled with a lyrical slant as concerned with science and mathematics as it is with unrequited love, that makes Empty Set more than just another twee, folk outfit.
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