Waterford’s O Emperor.
By Colleen Taylor
Teenage boys do more in high school than fall asleep in class: sometimes they form some pretty amazing bands. O Emperor is a five-piece rock band out of Waterford that started playing together early on in secondary school. The group is made up of musicians Alan Comerford, Brendan Fennesssy, Paul Savage, Phil Christie and Richie Walsh. They describe themselves as a collective mixing different genres and musical influences into one overarching rock sound—a self-aware estimation. What I like about this band is their soft approach to electro-rock music.
Comerford, Fennessy, Savage, Christie and Walsh burst onto the scene in Ireland in 2010 with the release of their hit debut “Hither Thither.” The album was shortlisted for Choice Music Prize’s Irish album of the year—an impressive feat for a first attempt at recording. Soon the tracks off the album were making their way east and west to BBC and NPR radio. Since their auspicious beginning in 2010, O Emperor has appeared at the leading Irish musical festivals like Longitude and Electric Picnic and opened for MGMT and Villagers.
O Emperor sound like the Beatles might if they had formed 50 years later. (They look like them too.) One of their biggest hits, “Sedalia,” a ballad-like piano track, reminisces as Lennon reincarnated with a modern twist. There is a real sense of harmonization in their tracks overall, as well as a subtle attention to guitar notes that is not overwhelming to the ears. Their music is just plain pleasing to listen to—peppy but not stressfully energetic. O Emperor offers a traditional take on rock music, but they don’t shy away from some alternative and electro ornamentation either: they seem to be grounded fully in past and present music.
Their latest work is a 2014 full-length album, “Vitreous,” which had been greatly anticipated in Ireland since their emergence on the scene five years ago. The album sounds like a cohesive sequel to their first work. There’s not much wildly inventive or different about this next edition, but it remains excellent alternative rock music: soft, easy, well-executed. One of my favorites is “Holy Fool,” a solid rock single that preceded the full album release and was popularly received across the Atlantic. A couple of the tracks on the new album, ones like “This Is It” and “Brainchild,” foray into the electro side of the band’s genealogy and identity moreso than the rock half, offering some interesting variety and demonstrating that O Emperor has—despite initial impressions—evolved and changed since their conception. It’s not just 21st Century Beatles all the way through (although that would be just fine by me as well). “Land of the Living” is a playful, easygoing track that echoes something like “All You Need Is Love.” Rather than being a tiresome reprise of one of rock music’s most beloved classics, O Emperor offer something refreshing: a return to what works what it comes to great music. Rock music doesn’t need to be all spinning disks and reverberation: a good, careful bridge, chorus, and a flourish of musical ornamentation and are sometimes all it takes, as O Emperor show. The classic sound can go a long way in music today.
The Waterford group just finished up a slew of gigs in Ireland, including a performance in Dublin at Workman’s Pub and an appearance at the Roisin Dubh for the Galway Arts Festival. They’re staying on the home turf for the forseeable future, with a festival show in Monaghan lined up in August, but perhaps the new album will bring them across the Atlantic soon.
Check out O Emperor’s album “Vitreous” for a simultaneously nostalgic and modern rock music experience. More at: oemperor.com.
Colleen Taylor writes the “Music Notes” column in the Irish Echo each week.