Album Reviews

Empty House: Secret Suburbia

Fred Laird returns with the much anticipated follow-up to last year’s ‘The Rituals of Romance’.

Whether it’s a part of his other projects, Taras Bulba, Earthling Society, or the fantastic space rock odyssey alongside Mike Vest as Artifacts & Uranium, North West-based experimentalist Fred Laird produces the kind of sounds that need to be placed firmly under the microscope.

Having unearthed his Empty House project a little over 12 months ago now, Laird has given us a form of labyrinth psychedelia that completely shifts the needle. As far as tremors from the U.K. underground are concerned, last year’s The Rituals of Romance was the biggest on the Richter scale, to the point where it ended up safely entrenched in our Top 50 Albums of 2022.

Amalgamating acid folk influences with kraut-rock and celestial psychadelia, Laird is a true original, and whilst it’s no surprise, his follow up, Secret Suburbia, is another cosmic rush of fresh ideas. Laird’s mantra is that no Empty House record is the same, and while the lineage from The Rituals of Romance is like an echo from the deep, by and large the two albums occupy their own orbits.

Secret Suburbia’s mix is meticulous and to really get into the grooves of this record, the deep listening phase must be undertaken to feel its full impact. Beginning with Evening Light, Laird gives us one of his most sullen pieces from the Empty House oeuvre so far. Like an ambient wave skirting the outer-world, it’s something you may have thought Broken Social Scene could have produced during the Feel Good Lost sessions.

Florian is an acoustic-based cosmic meandering through fantastical landscapes, while mirroring the vibe of the artwork, The Mysterious Cat is like the lost soundtrack from Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Ivan The Tolerable Quartet: Toft House Session

With the compositions It Rained on the Friday, Twilight Symposium and The Lotus and Dragonfly, Laird’s Buddhist ideology is clear, and while it is said to have heavily influenced these recordings, through these exotic interludes Laird pulls ours minds further into his sound world.

With plucky twangs and sparse keys that seemingly arrive from the same well that features in the aforementioned Murakami tome, October Song is Secret Suburbia’s centre piece. With a piercing noise that slowly reaches you, again Laird pulls you into another direction across the terrains of his obscure sound world. As the title suggests, The Ghost in the Temple arrives from a similar path, combining the lustre with Laird’s Buddhist leanings.  

The astral Zen-inspired Fata Morgana sets up the album nicely for the closing title track: a piano-led composition feeding into the idea of meditative psychedelia, which Laird harnesses all throughout the album.

While it lacks the immediacy of its predecessor, Secret Suburbia is the kind of slow burn every crate digger needs in their collection. Drop the needle and let Laird guide you through his weird and wonderful orbit, because there is no other like it. With his Empty House project, it’s one that always changes. However, as John Peel once said of The Fall, “Always different, always the same.” That very notion could be attributed to Empty House, and with Secret Suburbia, the case remains.

Secret Suburbia is out now via Wormhole World Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

5 replies on “Empty House: Secret Suburbia”

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