When two college friends, Matt Koliopoulos and Steve Rivera, formed Rival Empire, it wasn’t long until they realized their songwriting partnership spawned various stylistic forms; their early efforts spanned everywhere from dance and electronica to reggae and pop. To keep things cohesive, their solution to this was to incorporate re-purposed lyrics and melodies inspired from big names like Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, Christie Brinkley, and even Ronald Reagan, all while remaining in line with section 107 of the Copyright Act. It’s a fascinating approach that results in a thought-provoking sound throughout their new self-titled album, which was released earlier this month.
Another emphasis of Rival Empire’s sound is on social critique within their lyrics; the project is more than just a stylistic flex. One such example is “Reagan’s Rancho Del Cielo”, a synth-pop/rock hybrid that seemingly takes a cue from Depeche Mode’s darkly infectious hooks, White Rose Movement’s electro-rock arsenal, and Placebo’s industrial griminess. It even uses the “tear down this wall” clip from the Reagan himself and references his wife’s “dirty little secret”, in addition to odd but surprisingly effective brief moment of stylistic transition just after the three-minute mark. The dark political vibes remind me also of Manic Street Preachers’ “The Love of Richard Nixon“. It’s an interesting effort, to say the least, from a group whose stylistic creations and social commentary are very idiosyncratic.