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epic45 – You’ll Only See Us When The Light Has Gone

Allegedly there are people out there who’ve not heard of epic45.  They’re probably hidden under a rock.  Or maybe living in Dunfermline, who knows?  Well, the good news for the rest of us is that epic45 have chosen 1st January 2024 as the release date of their thirteenth album.  Thirteen albums… just think about that for a moment – and there’s not one album where the quality dips.  In fact, I’ve been telling people that they’ve been on an ever-upward trajectory.

Ben & Rob are the beating heart of epic45, who are joined on this album by Mike Rowley on drums.  They’re based in the English Midlands, which generally means that they’re surrounded by countryside, old tunnels, disused buildings, railway tracks and neglected land.  But it also means that they’re surrounded by tremendous beauty, whether it’s natural beauty or beauty in decay.  All of this feeds into the music which they’ve created over the 25 years or so that they’ve been working together – as well as Ben’s photography which adorns much of epic45’s artwork.  This landscape continues to drive and inspire both of them to write about their lives in this part of the country.

The first thing to say is that there’s something a little different about this album, which I’ll maybe return to in a moment.  The eagle-eyed amongst you will be aware that epic45 started life as a post-rock band making mainly instrumental music.  Early albums, such as 2002’s ‘Reckless Engineers’ solidified the sound which would form the building blocks of much of their later work.  It was only later that Ben started adding vocals to some of their songs.  At the time, I was a little oblivious to all of this, because I discovered them only around the time of 2009’s ‘In All The Empty Houses’, a 6-track mini-album where they challenged themselves to produce something arguably more accessible, while retaining the electronic & ambient elements of their sound which have been the lifeblood of the band’s music.

Having watched them develop their sound over the fifteen years which I’ve been charting their ascent has been nothing short of breathtaking.  What began with me buying a copy of ‘In All The Empty Houses’ from Norman Records after reading an interesting article on their website has led to me scouring the land for their back catalogue, which is less straightforward than you might think, especially given the number of labels they recorded for in the early days.

Anyway… I mentioned that there’s something a little different going on here.  I’ll describe it like this.  We’ve discussed those early instrumental outings, then later the addition of vocals and more accessible music.  What I’ve witnessed is that – almost in slow motion – epic45 have morphed into a band who have found a sound almost entirely of their own.  People have occasionally asked me to describe epic45.  I’d find that I’d open my mouth and be immediately stumped, because I’d usually look for reference points – other artists who record similar types of music – but there really aren’t many.  Somebody once described epic45 as ‘Pastoral Rock’, which is quite clever as it feeds back into their love of the countryside and Ben’s photography, but to an outsider, this doesn’t really explain what the band is all about.  The previous studio album, 2020’s ‘Cropping The Aftermath’ saw them embracing several genres; even for epic45, they were spreading their wings further than before, particularly on tracks such as ‘Buildings Aren’t Haunted, People Are’.  Well, here’s the thing… they’ve just done this leap again with this ‘You’ll Only See Us When The Light Has Gone’.

I think we can safely say that epic45 have become truly comfortable in their own skin.  No longer existing in a confined space musically, they’re completely comfortable performing whatever ignites them.  It’s clear that Ben is really challenging himself vocally here, going further than I’ve heard him go previously, as is particularly evident in ‘Passing’ where the melody is a dominant force.

What’s maybe more subtle is how both Ben & Rob carefully weave and layer their instruments to create lots of space for both vocals and dynamics.  Several songs abandon the idea of a standard verse-chorus-verse structure altogether, and it’s irrelevant… we don’t miss it, as a guitar riff fills the void, or layered vocals & synths come into focus.  ‘The Crush’ is arguably the only song which follows a traditional structure – but this album is so effective because it bends all the usual rules.

epic45 are masters of layering tracks… beginning almost with nothing and slowly building this huge soundstage in the second-half of the song.  It’s present on both ‘Underneath The Houses’ and ‘Finality’, the latter with its dramatic ending.

Finally, if you’re reading this review and you maybe haven’t listened to epic45 previously, I’d encourage you to check out the track below, because by this time tomorrow you’ll be telling your friend or partner that you’ve just discovered the best hidden gem that’s out there.  And you’d be correct.

Available now on both limited-edition LP and CD from Bandcamp and Norman Records.

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