Hither Tither’s been a long time coming. Originally scheduled for release back in October 2009, O Emperor decided to hold off and go for the major label jackpot. A year and a hard-won deal at Universal later, the album’s been partially re-recorded, and the Waterford four-piece has taken the very vaguest hint of a step into Irish music royalty. It’s difficult to pin the band down. Opener and latest ‘Don Quixote’ begins with an overwhelming, operatic vibe that’s not unlike Matt Bellamy’s quieter moments; beautiful but not exactly setting the tone. Older single ‘Po’ is a starker, more grounded poppy number that reeks of summer cider. The two singles, though, are the energetic peaks; the bulk of Hither Thither is a relatively mellow and slightly glum affair.
There’s plenty of instrument-hopping to be had along the way. O Emperor incorporate piano and guitars in almost equal measure, and at times delve into a hazy, punch-drunk sound that messes with the mind on surround sound and demands further listening just to pick out some of the deeper layering. In the slower moments, the likes of Midlake or Grizzly Bear stand out as influences: the similarities are sometimes obvious, but equally, some parts of this album could be by an entirely different band. The only factor that keeps it strung together as a whole, in fact, is the voice of Paul Savage. He sometimes strains for the top notes but uses the single to liven up a style that’s otherwise sublimely, memorably morose. Album taster ‘Don’t Mind Me’ – a track reminiscent of The Great Escape era Blur, whistles and all – is the perfect example.
Such a long wait for a debut comes with certain expectations, and O Emperor more than surpass them. Hither Thither is sophisticated, genre-blending and explores more accessible (yet creative) weirdness in the likes of Heidelberg than plenty of bigger name acts do in their entire career. That doesn’t mean we don’t get a little filler along the way, but while the lows are forgettable, the ups point to a band heading for something outstanding.