In the world of music, especially in 2021, there are more genres and subgenres than even a Jeopardy champion could fathom. Into this overpopulated, overly specific pot comes Empty Streets, the musical guise of Aaron Thompson—a man without a genre. Sure, if you’re like Miss Jackson, which is to say “nasty,” you might know the artist under yet another pseudonym—Small Hands—but that’s a story for another time.
However you’ve come to the party, Empty Streets offers an intriguing blend of sounds that casually raises a middle finger to the concept of allowing oneself to be pigeonholed—by genre, career, or lifestyle. Delivering an impressive sophomore EP, Age of Regret, back in August 2021, via Cleopatra Records, the project has settled into a Modern Darkwave billing that is only just the beginning. The 7-song collection shows an introspective singer-songwriter who struggles with life’s inherent pressures, tangoes openly with demons, and somehow still finds the strength to survive in the City of Lost Angels.
Thompson is, of course, no stranger to creating music. A San Diego native, he founded The Stranger’s Six, a band that would see him sharing stages with the likes of The Misfits, 30 Seconds to Mars, The Cult, and Panic at the Disco. He would go on to spend several years touring with Fenix TX, offering his bass and backing vocal skills to the Texas’ Pop-Punk outfit who, coincidentally, are known for a “Threesome.” It was, however, the time spent creating original scores for Joanna Angel’s Burning Angel films that would serve as the impetus for what was to become Empty Streets.
Launching the solo project in 2020 with the release of his debut EP, Demons, Thompson sought to infuse his Rock-n-Roll roots with “a darker, sexier edge.” Drawing on influences ranging from Nick Cave to VNV Nation, Nine Inch Nails to Depeche Mode, the multi-talented musician began creating the material that would find a home on Age of Regret.
Somewhere along the way a global pandemic must be factored into the mix, and Thompson found himself creating Empty Streets 2.0 at home, alone, with the virtual assistance of Pierce The Veil’s Jaime Preciado, who mixed and mastered the EP. Dropboxing one another files and comparing notes via text, the pair dove headfirst into their work and, admittedly, spurned a bit of a bromance in the process.
But the EP is not a love story and definitely not a pornographic adventure; rather, it is a raw, unfiltered gaze into its creator’s soul. “Making this record was lonely and painful,” Thompson confesses. “In addition to creating it at home entirely alone, lyrically I had to confront more demons than I could handle. Age of Regret is both a furious howl towards the entire system and an ugly hard look in the mirror.”
It opens on the singer-songwriter with his back against the wall, initiating us into “Pleaser,” a languid journey through enticing electronics and observations on the many displeasing, hypocritical characters found in the pages of our autobiographies. An attention-grabber, it kicks off the EP with the oomph necessary to hold a listener’s attention as a demonic deal is forged amid “Age of Regret,” an undulating, melancholic calm, its poisonous repercussions ring heavy thanks to an understated vocal delivery. Here, as on the bulk of the tracks, each word echoes with the emotional pain borne of living in this broken world.
This fades out to allow the spotlight to focus on the dirty Moog synths that tempt us into “All You Deserve”—featuring additional production from Dillinger Escape Plan’s Ben Weinman—and radio-ready “Millions.” The latter is the most commercially appealing moment on the EP, a look at chasing down a dream and a reminder that nothing worth having ever comes easy. Unfortunately, its strength is not wholly echoed in “Heartthrob of the Ages.” Pairing a wonderful cinematic score with lyrics that fail to hit as hard as some of its sister offerings, the song is a gaze into the filmic abilities of its composer.
Refusing to pigeonhole himself, Thompson moves on to the futuristic feels of “Was That Not Enough.” Featuring Guitarist Ace Von Johnson of Faster Pussycat, the song’s atmospherics could have easily leant it toward a rocker ala 30 Seconds to Mars’ 2002 debut or anything by Starset. Instead, the vocals are stymied by abundant synths and studio effects, though the overall result still shows promise. And it segues perfectly into the final track, a cover of Jason Molina’s Songs: Ohia thumper “I’ve Been Riding with a Ghost.” Allowing for a final exploration of further sonic terrain, the Slowcore bit fits this collection flawlessly and adds a dash of additional flavor.
In fact, throughout Age of Regret, Thompson shows the potential to easily divert to Indie or Alt Rock, Dream Pop or whatever-Core, though his focus remains within the Darkwave sphere, amalgamating catchy moments with cinematic electronics and haunting glances into his Punk soul. With synths percolating across multiple layers of production, the end result is a sophomore EP that is entrancing, demanding, and in need of an instant replay.