You Will Eventually Be Forgotten
You Will Eventually Be Forgotten, the second full-length from husband and wife duo Empire! Empire (I Was a Lonely Estate), will no doubt be filed under the “Emo Revival” category by most critics. This makes sense. The guitar lines are winding and melodic; the vocals are nasally; and the lyrics are intensely personal. I don’t necessarily disagree with this genre categorization, but it can be alienating, too. For a lot of people, the E-word is a scarlet letter that says, “Unless you want people to think you’re a Hot-Topic-shopping, angst-ridden teen, stay away from this record.” These Emophobics may have a warped view of the genre’s actual fanbase, but it still bums me out that their misperception might prevent them from hearing one of the most honest and cathartic records of the year. Frankly, You Will Eventually Be Forgotten bears about as much resemblance to Emo as it does to the music of hyper-autobiographical, confessional singer-songwriters like Mark Kozelek and Fiona Apple. Or perhaps a more apt comparison would be to the burgeoning literary movement led by writers like Tao Lin and David Shapiro known as “New Sincerity.” Their aesthetic is marked by straightforward storytelling that lacks the protective distance created by irony and metaphor. In the same way, this album sounds like the diary entries of lead singer/songwriter Keith Latinen put to music. Yet, whereas most New Sincerity narratives are set in trendy urban hell holes, Empire! Empire! have created a record about what it’s like to live in rural America in 2014, a place that popular culture increasingly tells us to ignore.
You Will Eventually Be Forgotten has the narrative ambition of a novel. It begins roughly in the present. “Ribbon” tells the story of Latinen’s then fiancé, Cathy (who also happens to be the second half of Empire! Empire!), getting in a minor car crash on their wedding day. Nearly everything in the song happens over the course of about fifteen minutes. Latinen focuses on tiny details and slows down time. Everything is concrete. “The car turned out in front of you, violently flinging you into the waiting airbag,” he sings. For those who know the band as a married couple, it’s clear this song is autobiographical, and our narrator sounds heartbreakingly vulnerable. The somber solo guitar melody that accompanies him only heightens the intimacy. There is no bombastic chorus. He simply tells his story and moves on. This spare narrative structure repeats itself on every song on the album and gives the entire thing an engrossing sense of continuity.
Two more songs focus on Latinen’s relationship with Cathy, and then we move back to his childhood in Fenton, Michigan. “A Keepsake” recounts a canoe trip he took with his father, brother, and uncle in Northern Michigan when he was eight or nine. There’s dreamy natural imagery and the soft-focus romance we often place on childhood memories. Latinen also captures the terror of childhood in “You Have to Be so Much Better Than You Ever Thought,” a song about a summer he spent at boy scout camp.
The album’s most powerful tracks come from Latinen’s adolescence and college years. “Foxfire” tells of the loss of his Christian faith in college. In one of the most emotionally affecting songs on the album, “If It's Bad News, It Can Wait,” we hear the story of a spring break trip to Virginia Beach he took with his three best friends in their senior year of high school. Again, Latinen recalls these perfect details. The boys spend their first night there playing video games in their hotel. They wander around the boardwalk aimlessly. In the end, one of their friends receives a call that his brother is dead. His friend drives the twelve hours home alone, making it back just in time for the funeral. Latinen does not make profound observations or obfuscate in metaphor. He trusts that listeners can draw their own conclusion from the simple facts he lays out.
“The Promise That Life Can Go on No Matter How Bad Our Losses,” the final act of You Will Eventually Be Forgotten, returns to Fenton, where our narrator still lives with his wife. At times they feel like ghosts, all of their friends having split for one city or another. He’s out on tour in Philadelphia one New Year’s Eve and his wife is alone at home. They count the ball down together over the phone, and Latinen feels guilty leaving Cathy by herself. In the final line of the album he asks if being a musician is “still worth putting our life on hold?” For our sake, I hope the answer is yes.