The music that greets your ears when Ice On The Dune begins is like a soundtrack to the unimaginable. Lux shimmers and twirls. It darts around you and dances before you. It’s grandiose and entirely over the top, but it’s also the perfect introduction to the sophomore release from Empire Of The Sun. The record that follows is a pulsing ball of swollen energy, the glittery production of Nick Littlemore taken to places euphoric when coupled with Luke Steele’s childlike vocals. Nothing sums it up better than this simple refrain of Alive: “Hello to my people/Say hello to the future”.
“We’re continuing the journey [with this album], but this time around initially we had this whole thought; we’ve come across the kingdom again, and everything’s cool y’know, everything is going great,” Littlemore laughs, turning a comment that seemed originally straight into a slight piss take. “I think you have to look at it objectively – it’s one thing to invent these things, but it’s another to control them... they become living things, y’know. When we first came up with Empire, we didn’t have an audience, but now there is one and there’s demand and there are all these other responsibilities.”
From the imagery of the record – the frozen ice sheets, jagged mountains and iridescent aqua tones – it seems that Ice On The Dune is potentially the flipside to the galactic desert world their 2008 debut Walking On A Dream was found within. Littlemore is quick to put such an assumption to bed, however, expanding on the ideals of what seems to be an extended journey not only into the world of Empire Of The Sun, but also to the depths of their own minds.
“I don’t think musically necessarily – I don’t think it’s cold. We were still hitting the same, I guess the hole in the storm or the honeyed light is still there, the essence or whatever it is that people respond to in the songs from Walking On A Dream,” he informs. “But I don’t know, I think the clothes [have] maybe changed, the environment somewhat... But I think with the story, there’s always two paths; there’s the fantastical elements but a lot of them are metaphorical pieces about one’s life and the record is really all based around the word ‘aspire’ – it’s an aspirational record. [Let’s remove] all those limitations, those insecurities that everyone has in their own lives and their own worlds – we want to empower people.”
But behind all this sanctioning from the “kingdom” remains an album that Littlemore is still coming to terms with, and it’s easy to relate. After all, there again seems to be much more than music that comes with Ice On The Dune, the cover art, costumes and film clips taking this traditional full-length and turning it into a fantastical adventure once more, like a Hollywood blockbuster has been refined down to a single batch of tunes. But this is a view from the outer sanctum looking towards the inner reaches. As for Littlemore, this album’s success – and the duo’s – is still inevitably driven by songs. Without them, all the additional colours amount to nothing.
“I don’t celebrate the ceremony of a release so much as the bedding in of the music and the way it can come back to you,” he reasons. “[And] you can rediscover your own music [through] an ad or a film or [while] you’re travelling – it can be very bizarre. I remember being in Italy one time and hearing a song; there was all the announcements and then the song came on. It takes me a while to realise, ‘Hey, that’s my song’. It’s just so weird, it’s cool. And it’s funny, they always sound so simplistic when you hear them back a long time after the process when you’re anguishing over everything and all the rest of it.”