[sic] Magazine

epic45 – Through Broken Summer

Like many people, after epic45’s previous album Weathering was released in 2011 and the years since have ebbed away, many of us have began to wonder whether we might ever see the day when another epic45 album would surface – or, indeed, if epic45 had instead decided to call it a day. It’s not as though band members Ben Holton and Rob Glover have laid down their instruments during the intervening seven years; both have independently produced a number of albums under the monikers of, respectively, My Autumn Empire and Field Harmonics. In fact, both of those projects have produced some real gems. It’s simply that epic45 hold a truly special place in many people’s hearts.

I admit to being late on the scene myself, having caught up with their music in 2009, shortly after the release of In All The Empty Houses. That particular album was the reason I immediately went out and bought anything and everything with epic45 stamped on it. As you can guess, I was pretty excited when I heard about this release earlier this year.

Perhaps the most remarkable observation about Through Broken Summer is that it’s an incredibly understated record. Many of the tracks are introspective and there are no real attempts to suddenly take a leap into pop-song territory or lurch into big anthems, luring listeners with hooks and riffs; instead, songs are carefully woven, guided and developed – and they feel incredibly fragile and beautiful at the same time. The songwriting is extremely detailed – every note feels pored over and analysed, as if the band has locked themselves away in a studio, turned all the lights off and pressed [Record] to see what might happen, followed by moments where you feel that Holton has maybe deliberated over whether to play three notes or two – or even cut those two notes down to one, so as to ensure sufficient “space” in the music to allow songs to breathe. Similarly, whereas previously Glover might have automatically added a layer of keyboards, here he’s instead to be found reaching into his box of tricks and adding backing vocals, samples and field noises along with keyboard stabs. It’s taken me many listens to dissect the layering of many of the tracks – there’s real magic in there, and you don’t necessarily notice all of the complexity during the first few listens, just the simple delight of the songs.

It takes only around ten seconds before confirmation arrives that this album is indeed an epic45 record; the acoustic guitar and slightly ghostly vocals that fade in during opener ‘Remember The Future’ really couldn’t belong to anybody else. ‘Outside’ is clever – just at the point where you think the chorus is about to explode, the song completely regresses before slowly building into layers of keyboards. Even after the song fades, there’s a delicate ending that sounds like a recording from a tape discarded many years ago in an attic and only recently rediscovered.

‘Sun Memory’ contains a delightful guitar riff; it’s a warm-sounding song that echoes the sleeve artwork very well. There are also darker moments, such as the more electronic sounding ‘Cornfields and Classrooms’. The repeated spoken vocals halfway through add several dimensions to the song – projecting fear, claustrophobia and ultimately worry.

‘From Quiet Houses’ contains all the typical hallmarks of an epic45 song – fragile-sounding guitars, layered synths and quietly sung vocals. Even right at the end of the song, there’s an added electronic surprise that could easily be described as sounding like an out-take from an episode from late-70s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel. ‘Cloud Phantoms’ builds on the same premise, delicately building, initially adding an extra chord, then shortly afterwards a synth, and gently adding layers one note at a time – but then fading an instrument, removing a note and ever so slowly reducing, rewinding, stepping back from the song – until finally, nothing remains.

If proof were needed that epic45 are indeed sonic magicians, title track ‘Through Broken Summer’ provides the evidence. A repeated guitar riff on top of a synth kicks things off before another guitar and repeated half-spoken vocals arrive. There’s an undercurrent of self-doubt amplified within the song – and in particular the ghostly vocals – almost like describing the feeling of people whispering on the other side of the room, when you’re sure that you’re the one who’s being discussed.

I don’t know how epic45 have managed to do it, but with Through Broken Summer, they’ve achieved a personal best. In many ways, this album feels more complete than Weathering, its predecessor. It’s undeniably a more understated album, but one which optimises their strengths. This album is evidence that epic45 feel truly comfortable in their ability to create beauty from small places – and this really should be a lesson for all of us.