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Review: BANNERS ignites ‘Empires on Fire’ with new EP

“I don’t wanna die or fade away,” BANNERS sighs, tracing the heaviness of his heart through such tentpoles as restlessness, agony and deep-rooted resilience. The merciless growl of drums and sparkling guitar on “Someone to You,” in stark contrast to the song’s fervent message of self-worth and destiny, stitches his past and present, taking cues from Mike Nelson’s thrilling and splendidly-ghost-like debut, 2016’s self-titled extended play, which features the viral hit “Start a Riot.” But on his Empires on Fire EP, a burn-prone disc so timely, it’s jarringly eery, sending chills down to your bones, Nelson strikes a progressive balance, stemming from his unshakable genius with scalding melodies and rhythms. His breathy phrasing is met with doses of fierce production.

“Our empire is on fire,” he chants ⎯⎯ piano, percussion and guitar work winding, hellbent, around each other. The titular cut, from which his vocal seems to rise like a serpent in the water, plays as both a piece on a disastrous relationship and an explosive retelling of today’s catastrophic 45 administration. “The danger with observations on society or politics is that songs can get too preachy,” he says. “I hope that’s not the case. It’s just a subject that’s on my mind a lot.” Nelson allows the listener to rip and bend the lyrics to their will, exposing the exact strength of his finesse. Later, he addresses global warming on the second verse, singing, “Now we’re falling through the ice / We made our bed and rolled the dice.”

“Firefly” flickers with startling renewal one undergoes in love, another’s eyes piercing your soul. You are so smitten, it is as if you are being reborn. “World’s apart / When it went dark, you were always on my mind / Illuminate, set ablaze / You make me light up like a firefly,” he sings, brooding and romantic. “Into the Storm,” then, is enveloping, as he declares his loyalty, even in the face of torrential cyclones or snow-capped blizzards. “Know you’re always in my heart anywhere you go,” Nelson cries. “Holy Ground” comes as a sneak attack, ransacking the EP’s otherwise clamorous arrangements and bearing his most soul-tearing, emotional confessional. His vocal is especially paralyzing, as he recalls “special people and special places and keeping those memories with you wherever you go,” he explains.

“I was standing on holy ground,” he prayers, his voice feathery and building in intensity. “So, heart don’t fail me now / And even if the walls were falling down, it will always be us, be us / This is holy ground.”

BANNERS is a magician, not one to reveal too many of his sly tricks. He divulges a few subtle hints, of course, but leaves you feeling utterly satisfied and desperate for more in the same singular breath.

Grade: 4 out of 5

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Jason Scott

Editor-in-Chief of the Badlands, spinning those B-Sides. Love Parks & Rec. Addicted to high-priced coffee drinks, alt-country and synth-pop, and never know when to quit. Got a cat named Jake--and she doesn't like you very much.