Sunday, October 4, 2009

In All the Empty Houses EP - Epic45

In All the Empty Houses EP

Make Mine Music.

SCQ Rating: 81%

Once every few years, a band’s sound can worm inside my heart so lovingly and sympathetically, I’m stranded with the unflinching obsession of collecting that band’s entire life’s work. That’s what England Fallen Over did to me a few years back: its crisp guitar lines and programmed beats formed a melodic hybrid of pastoral post-rock that, for all my strengths, I couldn’t live without. After capping off their Make Mine Music catalog with 2007’s May Your Heart Be the Map, however, I could feel my neglected rationale returning to me. As instantly loveable as Epic45’s sound is, I realized how akin it is to a helpless puppy - heartbreaking and irresistible, sure, but also frustrating if it never grows stronger or seeks to better itself. While May Your Heart Be the Map was the duo’s loveliest record to date, nestled deep in earthy atmospheres and occasionally brilliant, it remained completely unobtrusive. Vocally, Ben Holton and Rob Glover were swallowed in the mix and their ever-softening dynamics were nearly flat-lined in the realm of comfort music. I quietly resigned myself to suspend expanding my Epic45 collection further.

In All the Empty Houses, their newest release and first which I should be avoiding, just proved my rationale to be utter nonsense. Where that 2007 full-length hinted at Epic45 exploring the vapours of cinematic ambience, this six-track EP finds the UK duo breaking new ground by combining meatier arrangements to their perpetually stunning melodies. It’s no brave experiment: this is still clearly Epic45… but I’d wager it’s the best Epic45 have sounded in some time. ‘We Were Never Here’ captures fresh, untreated guitars which, alongside sparse drums, devises a rhythmically complex underbelly for the repeated lyric “I thought we’d overcome the worst”. The sense of aftermath pervades these songs, calling out aging formative years on ‘Daylight Ghosts’ and resonating nostalgia in the title track’s overcast moods. Beyond the sharpened emotions present on In All the Empty Houses EP, the key to these tracks is their percussive sensibilities, using laptop loops and live drums to pace and punctuate their haunted memories. When Epic45 unveil their EP’s sole instrumental ‘Their Voices in the Rafters’, it’s a most welcome respite… allowing the band and listener to ponder the faint memories that all houses, empty or not, show evidence of.

Holton and Glover seem no less wistful or playful on In All the Empty Houses… and maybe that’s the point. Instead of trying to articulate their memories in radiant cinematics, they are hammering out their trademarked style with real conviction. ‘Ghosts On Tape’, instead of lilting listeners, punches out with prominent beats and up-front vocals which open with the rather direct “I’ll always remember you / you’re in my heart forever”. Considering how instantly gratifying it feels, the track’s title is a bit ironic; if anything, their last full-length sounded like ghosts on a tape. On In All the Empty Houses EP, Epic45 sound right next to us.

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