Explore, Yoodoo Park's debut EP as GRMLN, was a wistful set of songs that had the bittersweet cast of summer's end, but on his first full-length, Empire, he trades that melancholy sound for a bright, active one that draws on '90s punk-pop. Out of all the styles from that decade -- grunge, shoegaze, trip-hop -- that found new life in the late 2000s and early 2010s, punk-pop remains fairly unexplored territory, and so Empire manages to sound nostalgic and relatively fresh at the same time. Contemporaries such as Cloud Nothings, Male Bonding, and Wavves have dipped their toes into these waters, and songs like "Blue Lagoon" and "Do You Know How It Feels" recall the work of those bands. Interestingly, and unlike some similar groups, GRMLN actually sounds best on Empire's slickest moments. Park cited Superchunk and Jimmy Eat World as influences, but there are also hints of early Foo Fighters on songs like the standout "Hand Pistol" which, with its tumbling guitars and singalong chorus, sounds like a hit single 20 years out of time. GRMLN's clean-cut take on the '90s also shines on the self-explanatory "1993" and "Teenage Rhythm," but Park also reminds listeners toward Empire's end that he can pull off other sounds too: "Summer Days" boasts a cocky riff that sounds like slowed-down '70s bubblegum, "Cheer Up" alternates between '50s slow-dance balladry and revved-up self-loathing, and "Dear Fear" closes the album on a vulnerable acoustic note. While even those fond of the '90s revival may be close to overdosing on nostalgia, Empire offers a fresh enough take to make it worth a listen.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares