Empire of the Sun – Ice On The Dune

Empire Of The Sun’s second album picks up where its much-lauded predecessor left off, writes TIM KLINGBIEL.

Ice On The Dune is Empire of the Sun’s long-awaited follow up to 2008’s worldwide hit Walking On A Dream – and it carries every bit of the overblown pomp and ceremony that we all loved about its predecessor.

On the heels of a typically cryptic and offbeat marketing campaign, the world was first introduced to the album via the excellent ‘Alive’, a single that has since become a summer soundtrack to northern hemisphere house parties and festivals. The album itself is packed full of these kind of euphoric hands-in-the-air moments, pairing frontman Luke Steele’s off-kilter emoting over the kind of shimmering electro-house-inspired beats that first surfaced on PNAU’s brilliant ‘With You Forever’ single.

Intro ‘Lux’ sets the scene with a regal and ceremonial vibe, conjuring visions of ancient Egyptian emperors being marched across vast deserts. After such a cinematic introduction, the glistening ‘DNA’ provides the record’s first radio-ready moment – and things only get catchier from there. The beauty of Empire of the Sun is that beneath the heavily stylised sound – which is breathtaking and a talking point in itself – there are classic pop songs that would still be anthemic even if stripped down to vocals and acoustic guitar. Case in point: ‘Alive’, which may become the track for which the band are best remembered. Though it’s only June, it’s already safe to say it’s a lock for top 10 in next year’s triple j Hottest 100.

”[These are] classic pop songs that would still be anthemic even if stripped down to vocals and acoustic guitar.”

The ‘80s synthpop-inspired ‘Concert Pitch’ is more subdued than the preceding tracks – though by no means does it veer into ballad territory – while the title track takes the most vibrant and flamboyant elements of ‘80s dance-pop and frames them in a 2013 milieu. This is another major element of the band’s allure: their reference points are clear throughout, but the stylistic cues have been updated in a manner that ensures the songs are unmistakeably modern. ‘Awakening’ is perhaps the first moment on the record that sounds truly different to the territory previously explored, drawing from a stylistic palette somewhere between M83’s arena-ready synth opuses and the kind of sparkly bedroom pop inspired by John Hughes’ mid-’80s films. Jarring at first, it’s ultimately one of the record’s strongest moments.

The brilliant ‘I’ll Be Around’ is another standout: Cure-inflected guitars and bruised disco float soporifically, creating a wonderfully hazy, elegiac vibe that shows another dimension to their sound. The mostly instrumental ‘Old Flavours’ is something of an interlude, leading into the Daft Punk-esque ‘Celebrate’. The grooving synth strut of ‘Surround Sound’ and the starry-eyed ‘Disarm’ continues the album’s high standard, before ‘Keep A Watch’ closes the record with another unexpected turn – a Bowie-inspired ballad that sees Steele turn in an inspired vocal over a late night prom slow dance backing.

Ice On The Dune is a record of two halves: the first, a continuation of the sound displayed by the band on Walking On A Dream; the second, showing a greater degree of experimentation. Despite the array of styles on display, the duo manage to rein things in from ever feeling scattershot, and the explorations are not so radically different that the unifying thread is lost. That the record is as strong as the band’s debut speaks volumes about its quality. While the first record provided a platform for the band’s global recognition, the second will surely allow them to move into the upper echelon of the global dance-pop scene.

Ice On The Dune is out this Friday (June 14 through EMI).