In 2011, Empires came tantalizingly close to winning a record deal and a Rolling Stone cover story after making it to the final four of the magazine's "Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star?" contest. This high-profile burst of attention, which came five years after the Chicago trio formed, raised their national profile and lit a fire under them: the vibrant Garage Hymns is a full-length with something to prove, a brawny rock-and-roll album in the spirit of the Gaslight Anthem (and the Anthem's avowed influences, '80s Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam) and U2. Sean Van Vleet's voice brims with determined grit and a starry-eyed upper register — half Brian Fallon warble, half Eddie Vedder exuberance— while guitarists Tom Conrad and Max Steger bash out riffs informed by punk velocity, post-punk darkness, and a bar band's reckless abandon. On the upbeat tip, of particular note are the grunge-glam pogo "Hell's Heroes" and its white-lightning licks, the fuzz-tipped speedball "Keep It Steady," and the distorted garage-blues swagger of "Surrenderer." The delicate, acoustic-based anthem "Night Is Young," meanwhile, is positively Springsteen. Not all of these mid-tempo moments work on Garage Hymns — at times the album drags. Still, Empires' songwriting is strong enough — and rooted in such classic sounds — that the band out-runs their shortcomings.