Getting signed off of an email, being recorded by one of their musical heroes and road-tripping with a Grammy winner — there are more than three months left in 2011, and it's already been a banner freshman year for Empress Hotel. The first-year pop band, whose eponymous debut EP arrived on area imprint Park the Van in March, went right back to work, dissecting and beefing up those raw, home-recorded tracks at Chris George's Living Room Studio in Algiers. Manning the boards for those sessions was Aloha drummer and prolific audio engineer T.J. Lipple (Holy Ghost, Wilderness, These United States), whose attuned ear honed what were already razor-sharp hooks. In September, neo-soul crooner Van Hunt picked up Empress Hotel as support for a month of sold-out fall shows, a veritable gift from the focus-group gods. Among the best of the new bunch: "Lonely Soul," a streamlined stomper that fillets the bass line from Cream's "Badge," transposes it to keyboard, flips it inside out and lets it wriggle uncontrollably for a tingling two-minute coda.