In a Philadelphia basement, four best friends have been mixing sounds to create mind-bending catchy music.
Garrett Koloski is distracted. An unleashed mutt just ran into the Brooklyn dive bar where we’re sitting, bounded past the Big Buck Hunter machine, squatted in the middle of the room, and defecated. Instead of joining in on the conversation about his band’s tour van and the scrappers who stole its catalytic converter, Koloski, the 28-year-old drummer for Philadelphia punk band Empath, is staring wide-eyed at the dog, trying to get the attention of his bandmates: “A dog just took a shit on the ground! That’s what it smells like.”
“Well,” Randall Coon, the band’s 32-year-old synth player says. “The reviews are out.”
Three years after recording their first lo-fi demos in the basement of their shared home in Philadelphia, Empath remain the sort of close friends who can pile onto each other’s jokes for hours if left to their own devices. They’re also one of the most confounding new rock bands in the country. Their debut full-length, Active Listening: Night on Earth — out now via the queer-centric, Philly-based DIY label Get Better Records — is a clash of howling guitar noise, mystic synthetics, frantic rhythms, and piped-in birdsong. Twenty-five-year-old lead singer and guitarist Catherine Elicson jumps from caterwauls to pop melodies over Koloski’s relentless thrashing and Coon’s thrumming low-end; Emily Shanahan, 27, levitates above the mix. Live and on record, Empath turn harsh sounds into something ferociously meditative. They pummel their way through the listener’s skull to open up space for a third eye.