My Autumn Empire appears to be Ben Holton’s outlet for romantically-fuelled sunshine pop, albeit sunshine pop which has overcast spells from time to time. After the more strident material on his second album ‘II’, ‘The Visitation’ consolidates Holton’s passion for bold, 70’s pop with production values to match.
The album starts with an acoustic guitar emerging from a hazy gauze of atmospherics, then Holton’s comforting voice comes to the fore too. It’s not the most thrilling start but one can already hear the likes of ELO or Cleaners From Venus may have had some influence here. The melody may be sunny and chipper but the helplessness of young love is evident on ‘Blue Coat’ (“I saw you walking from the science class window”) and throughout these songs deal with loneliness and love (sometimes both at the same time). “I never get lonely. I never feel blue” he sings possibly ironically on ‘The People I Love’ and all the way up to the tender finale ‘All In My Head’ he sings of ‘She walked into my dreams again… Just like a ghost”.
‘Blue Coat’ may benefit from a particularly robust rhythm section but this track and the title song apart, most of ‘The Visitation’ seems so dreamy and sensitive it could fall apart in strong winds. However, the terrific and so aptly-named ‘Summer Sound’ goes for the full ELO production treatment; Holton’s voice now easing into the mix like an extra layer of instrumentation and – somewhat unexpectedly – the unfashionable world of The Korgis comes to mind after hearing ‘Where Has Everybody Gone?’. The delightful ‘It’s Around’, meanwhile, recalls the retro-futurist arrangements of The Superimposers; all 60’s melodies but with space pop arrangements. It’s only the little touches such as the fragrant guitar patterns on ‘Andrew’ and ‘The People I Love’ which remind us that Holton is still an active member of Epic45.
So the mood is one of rainy day wistfulness even if the bright and shiny production suggests otherwise; “bittersweet” would possibly be the most appropriate definition here. What is clear is that Holton is now a man going further back time for his sources of inspiration and is increasingly enamoured with not only the idea of the perfect pop song but that of being in love itself. Faced with the evidence of ‘The Visitation’, that surely has to be a good thing.
Cleaners From Venus, ELO, The Superimposers, The Korgis, Epic45