Review: epic45 – Through Broken Summer

I have followed the career of epic45 pretty closely after first hearing them on an Earworm Records compilation from 2001. I noted in my review at the time that their contribution, ‘The Motorway Journey Of Hope’, was my favourite and my ears have always been receptive to their music ever since. Across almost two decades, this journey continued from the pretty instrumental textures of ‘Reckless Engineers’ to their most recent, slightly uneven and collaboration-heavy ‘Weathering’. Their records have always concentrated on very admirable characteristics such as musicianship, melody, melancholy, experimental production and lost childhood. It was music made by sensitive souls for sensitive souls.

All of their albums have been received positively, but if there was one thing they did lack it would be power and confidence or the willingness to step out from the minor label shadows. My main criticism of ‘Weathering’ at the time was that after a bold start they were a little tentative thereafter; retreating into their shells once more. Since then, core members Ben Holton and Rob Glover went on an indefinite hiatus as a songwriting partnership but have each used the time wisely; the former with My Autumn Empire and the latter with Field Harmonics, both of which embraced a distinct love of pop music from the 1970’s and 1980’s. After a slight return with 2014’s ‘Monument EP’ (which tellingly features a Tears For Fears cover), ‘Through Broken Summer’ sees them emerge from a nostalgic haze into their most ambitious offering yet.

v600_Through_Broken_Summer_-_Cover

‘Remember The Future’ is a bold yet haunting opening, mixing the band’s love of the pastoral with a confident production. It almost sounds like a satisfying end to an emotionally exhausting album as the last lights of summer slowly fade out. ‘The Lanes Don’t Change’ may not scream “indie hit” as much as their unheralded classic ‘Ghosts On Tape’ (surely one of the most beautiful songs of his Century) but the combination of Holton’s distinctive whispering tones, the repeated guitar hook and shuddering percussion is just as dreamy and intoxicating. By the time of the fourth track, the wonderfully warm melancholy of ‘Sun Memory’, there’s a definite sense that this will be the best album I’ve heard for several years. Songs are segued by unusual snatches of samples and ambient music, reminiscent of Boards Of Canada and emerging into a fully-formed experiment for the mysterious ‘Cornfields And Classrooms’. Single ‘Outside’ is another statement of intent, where brash slabs of vintage electronica blast from the speakers but there’s so much more going on in the multiple layers underneath to set this apart from a cheap electro-pop revival.

‘Hillside #6’ arrives at the midpoint and is a collaboration with regular touring partner Antony Harding of July Skies fame. It’s another serene moment and possibly the most practical way for a Brit to enjoy summer without needing to venture abroad. Yet this is a very British sounding album, made by a group brought up on a diet of Children’s Film Foundation and living in a Staffordshire village. This track signals a slight shift in tone as the music drifts into a gentler vibe, characterised by the hazily hypnotic melody to ‘New Silence’ and the hushed harmonies of ‘From Quiet Houses’ and ‘Cloud Phantoms’. Then just as things seem to be settling down towards a peaceful slumber, another stunning moment arrives. ‘Life Fades Whilst It’s Still Yours’ embodies magnificence as soon as the flute sounds, satisfyingly crisp drums a la late period Talk Talk and another compelling guitar hook kick in. It takes a glorious two minutes for Holton’s vocals to creep in; forming another beautiful layer and creating what Martine McCutcheon was probably talking about when she spoke of a ‘Perfect Moment’. On the title track, there is rain on the horizon, or rather the rainy day rock perfected by Epic 45’s old touring mates, Hood (circa the turn of the Century) but by the end of the track, they have worked their way up (or down) from a drizzle to a storm of their very own making. By the final plaintive, glistening notes of the last song, ‘We Don’t Love Here Anymore’, it’s clear that we have witnessed something special.

‘Through Broken Summer’ is a brilliant album and a perfect statement in how to appeal to a broader audience without compromising what made the artists so special and unique in the first place. Perhaps the “epic” part of the name was a prediction of what they would eventually become.

Web Sites:

epic45 Official Site
Wayside and Woodland Label and Shop Site
Video of epic45 – Outside

Further Listening:

July Skies, My Autumn Empire, Field Harmonics, Bark Psychosis, Talk Talk, Hood, Radiohead, Boards Of Canada

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