"Huling continues his recovery of the formerly-unknown hymns of Haden Laas, a young man who died in World War I and left behind a stack of hymns. Huling found them at an estate sale and has been bringing them back to life. This one is a real funky jam with multiple moods, led by go-go-go piano, wurlitzer, and a skronky guitar solo. It’s like Sufjan at his most kitchen-sink-indie-pop heights."
"Surprisingly emotional and wickedly addictive from start to finish, The Mere is a swan song from a group that never got the recognition from critics that they deserved in life, but can now find a sincere appreciation from audiences in death. In a lot of ways, the dark, hollow tonality of this record echoes the story of The Empty Mirror itself; the complexities of the music are overwhelming to put it mildly, but to be denied the genuine bliss of experiencing this album in its complete state would be a shame of epic proportions. The bottom line? Give this record the spin it’s been waiting for – I have a feeling you won’t regret it."
"As the roaring feedback crumbles into reverberating guitars that fade to black before us, The Empty Mirror’s so-called lost record comes to a stop, and we’re left to ponder the deeper meaning within its layers of enigmatic poetry and stealthy instrumental emotionality. I myself couldn’t be much more pleased with what Grant Huling has produced in this gorgeously appointed LP that lives up to everything The Empty Mirror were capable of during their highly extolled time running the underground."
"The lyrics in songs like 'Clownishness,' the title track and 'Breakfast at Midnight' are sharp as butcher knives and provide a sense of clarity amidst the suffocating atmosphere of noir-esque bass and drum violence.... The Mere, put simply, is a poignant, unforgettable dreamscape broken into nine tracks that vault between the bleak and the boisterous, finding a soft center somewhere between the two that is perhaps the most powerful gift The Empty Mirror could have ever given us."
"Valdes found a trove of hymns written by Haden Laas (1899-1918), an American soldier in WWI. This initial offering, 'Even I,' is a plaintive, yearning, piano-led tune. I’m super-excited to see where this goes."
"...The latest in Valdes’ settings of unpublished hymn-writer Haden Laas’ texts is a perky, quirky, breathy tune that calls to mind an optimistic Elliott Smith, if you can imagine tapping your toes to Smith’s work."
"You may not have heard of him, but at the tender age of 28 he has already covered more ground than most of the musicians you know and love will ever even attempt throughout the entirety of their careers.
"When I met him, he was the principal songwriter and front man of a college rock band that seemed to occupy fourth-dimensional space. You’d see them play and they’d very thoroughly and effectively rock you with thick slabs of songs with topics such as battling a Chinese invasion on US soil and women in love with their own self-destruction, and one would get the sense that you were only seeing a small part of an unknowable whole. Most of us were in bands in college primarily to give women in the audience the idea that it might be worth their while to fuck us. Grant Valdes didn’t seem to care about this kind of thing whatsoever. Also, he got laid more than anyone.
"Lately, Grant Valdes has been recording a collection of hymns he found at an auction written by one Haden Laas, an unknown composer who died in the first World War. Each month he releases a new hymn: his recording, the original sheet music, and the performance arrangement. Think about the chutzpah such an endeavor requires."
"It’s One Hell of a Melody. If you gave your young child a toy Casio and he played that melodic line on it, you’d have that kid in Vienna before he was old enough to ride a bike. Look: When the violins fall and rise at 1:36, you are hearing music that very few people can make."
"Grant led his trio with guitar and keyboard melodies that were well conceived. He conducted the violinist and dreadlocked cellist, who accompanied him in a clear and connected way. The simple combination of strings and piano matched Grant’s singular, full-toned voice and created a haunting, poignant sound that lingered in my head as I hummed between tunes.
"Grant's vocals are especially effective because of his ability to move between his breathy falsetto and his stronger voicing in a way that communicates unbiased emotion in each and every tune. His insightful lyrics are hauntingly perceptive to the human condition."
"By now you’re probably thinking 'This is a man who needs a Richard Pryor DVD and break from thirty-something time bombs,' but Valdes’ music isn’t predictably negative: his healthy, all-pervading pessimism keeps his material charged, and makes At Peace At Last a great album for revisiting the streets you got laid on with headphones plus ten years of attitude. It’s a trek Valdes makes often in his fifty minute adventure, tip-toeing so softly down Memory Lane it’s like he’s worried someone’s booby-trapped it with ornaments. One false step and he’ll be picking shards of china kitten from the soles of his feet all week. Hence why occasionally and when the mood grabs him, he has to let the odd bomb off. The bombs, when they come, explode sharply, the whole orchestra turned on you for ten seconds.
"At Peace At Last is certainly one of the more bitey singer-songwriter album recorded without drums I’ve heard. What makes it stick in the mind, though, is its sense of past injustices: you get the feeling that if Valdes isn’t recruited to contribute to a Western soundtrack soon then Oscar-contenders everywhere will feel it, as there are moments on here that feel like Bonnie “Prince' Billy after four or five espressos. What you need to do is ask yourself if your record collection could live without the company of a pained drifter who’s warmed up and now wants to talk. He may not have a drum kit but he’s going to piss off the neighbours."
Emotional, meaningful acoustic folk rock brilliance from the Seattle Six-Stringer
"Songs like 'When We Are Dead' and 'What the Hell Do I Know' are achingly emotive slices of acoustic lead beauty, full of feeling and mood and thought – songs that deserve to be boomed out on the radio."
"This is an artist with more than a touch of class, and though his ambition is a naughty thought indeed – he should, SHOULD, be a disposable pop icon who lasts all of ten seconds – if he really wanted to make it in the music industry today – it is admirable that there are still SOME people willing to sacrifice popularity and success by being real, genuine and most importantly – possessing a modicum of talent…
"Grant Valdes has all of the above and more in spades – and he deserves at least a fleeting, attention deficit disorder addled second of your time…
"He could save music.
"He has brass and song enough. We’ll see."
"It quickly becomes obvious that the rather omni-talented Mr. Valdes may have been miscast in the Empty Mirror because his solo At Peace at Last is an entirely different beast. All the cuts here are unified in fetchingly drear habiliment, subliminally sirenic. In that last trait, the storied heroes of old only had to resist external threats; with Peace at Last, the listener inside the listener is the real antagonist, not so easily dealt with but very revealing in contemplation and struggle.
"There's an upside to the fabrication of art for art's sake, and it lies in the fact that such works endure and become influential."
"First: This new five-song set should not be called an EP. Rather, 'opus 2' is what lead singer, guitarist and producer, Grant Valdes prefers. He feels that every artist should number their releases and he even gets a line tattooed on his arm for each release.
"Breaking the mold and not giving a shit what people think is the attitude here and I love it!"
"Grant Valdes may be out to make music for himself in the same way that Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu has claimed to do for the past thirty-five years but Valdes' The Empty Mirror has an advantage over the other noise rockers that they have been compared to – melody. Far from coming across as discordant, The Empty Mirror sound reels the listener in with sheer musicality on Abstracted Catholic – a five song collection that defies genre and goes for the gut. Musicianship rules the day with Ante Ruich’s assault on the bass, Bill Kim’s frenzied drumming and Valdes' innate ability to let feelings of isolation and tension ring out of just six strings as his voice – at times a gentle Syd Barrett-like purr and at others a feral scream – careens above the madness."
Indie Music Stop
“Overwhelm is a concept album which heralds an epic undertaking by The Empty Mirror. It's meant to be the first of three albums which revisit the theme of death and rebirth, though in this case it's 'the death of America as we know it.' The point of this album is not exactly to deliver a cogent argument about any particular conflict or event so much as to paint a scene of destruction and disorder a la Breughel. Overwhelm invokes an intense sense of confusion by acknowledging elements of contemporary American life -- democracy, desire, television, the economy, war -- without disrupting the play of images with an unequivocal judgment.
"The instrumentation helps us to understand the connection in an aesthetic sense: While the voice dominates the music with its melodramatic, not to say apocalyptic, tone, which is just short of a wail, the guitars move back and forth between electric jazz and power chords. The feel and rhythm of the songs similarly vary, and the meters are usually accented in interesting ways. A lively, nuanced LP. Let's hope the country can likewise give destruction the careful attention it deserves."
"The Empty Mirror is a self-described 'nightmericana' act, and have been blowing away live audiences since 2005. This previously Ohio-based act has moved up to Washington state, and have released Overwhelm after countless nights spent tweaking this album into what listeners will undoubtedly call their magnum opus. The disc starts out with the haunting, shrill guitar work and ambient noise of 'Zeppelins in the Fiery Sky'... The number of different segments to this track give listeners some sense of where The Empty Mirror will go in the tracks to come, as well as establishing that the band will go anywhere it damn well pleases."
"The fuzzy guitars will remind listeners of Sonic Youth, The Replacements, and Pere Ubu while the anguished vocals will imprint themselves indelibly in the minds and hearts of anyone that is lucky enough to listen in. Make it a point to pick up Overwhelm if you have any desire of hearing one of the best albums released in the last few years. The Empty Mirror create a blueprint for future rock bands of all stripes to follow."