In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in anticipation of Coachella kickoff, we’re highlighting some of our favorite acts set to play the fest this year.
Eight months out of the year, Empire Of The Sun keeps a pretty low profile in the United States. The electro-pop collaboration between The Sleepy Jackson’s Luke Steele and Pnau’s Nick Littlemore remains better-known in its native Australia, where its 2009 debut, Walking On A Dream, went double platinum. That record achieved gold-record sales in the U.S.—nothing to sneeze at, but the duo’s American fan base largely hides in plain sight. It can be more easily found when spring rolls around, as the celestial body referenced in the band’s name warms our polo grounds, our city parks, our stadium parking lots. Empire Of The Sun is a large-print festival act that practically doesn’t exist in the winter months, and its seeming omnipresence on the American music-festival circuit has a lot to do with the expansive sounds and soaring choruses of Walking On A Dream and its 2013 follow-up, Alive. Then again, Steele and Littlemore also play so many Coachellas, Lollapaloozas, and Austin City Limits because their glammed-up stage show wouldn’t work anywhere else.
It’d be easy to dismiss Empire Of The Sun as a spectacle first, music second affair if it hadn’t introduced itself with a single as solid as “Walking On A Dream.” Its weathered-VHS psychedelia and staccato disco guitar are as cheesy as a frontman who’s wearing the Iron Throne on his head—but then Steele’s falsetto kicks in, and the band’s musicianship seizes the spotlight. The sci-fi pomp of the stagecraft complements, rather than distracts, suggesting the unmade 1980s film epic whose establishing shots would be scored by “Walking On A Dream.” Since Steele and Littlemore don’t have a big screen, they use the next best thing: A big stage, filled with glittery dancers and flanked by video screens that broadcast the group’s “Adam Ant and the Sydney Community Players present Frank Herbert’s Dune” vibe all the way back to the Port-a-John lines. If Steele and Littlemore hadn’t created Empire Of The Sun, it would’ve sprung forth, fully formed, at one festival or another, soundtracking the magic hour and ushering fans out of their day-drunk state and into the heavier stuff the evening’s headliners have on tap.