Drakelow EP by Epic45 (Review)

Epic45 weaves in a sense of nostalgia and wistfulness that touches on the notions of abandoned, forgotten places.
Drakelow EP, Epic45

Epic45’s latest EP is an attempt to sonically recreate the experience of exploring Drakelow, an underground complex built in rural England during the 1940s to serve as government facilities and shelters in case nuclear war broke out. The facilities are now abandoned and forgotten by most, with much of it cordoned off by the government for safety reasons. But parts of it are still open for exploration, and so two members of Epic45, along with members of Ruraline and July Skies, descended into the tunnels last year.

As might be expected, the bulk of the Drakelow EP consists of ambient drones that sound suitably subterranean, with distant, echoing percussive loops giving the impression that somewhere, deep in the catacombs, secret activities are still taking place. But this is not exactly the sort of tectonic dark ambience that you’d hear from the likes of Lustmord or Caul. Not surprisingly, Epic45 also weaves in a sense of nostalgia and wistfulness that touches on the notions of abandoned, forgotten places. Places that, at some point in time, had been important, but have passed into slowly-diminishing memory.

“Spires Against The Summer Sky” opens the disc with shimmering, Steve Reich-esque cascades of sound. As the track slowly unfolds, guitar drones slowly come filtering in like dusk on a fine August day, deepening the song and taking it in slightly darker, more nocturnal directions. Sparse guitar notes ring out in “First Avenue,” echoed and delayed to the point where time seems to slow down, the track feeling much longer, and much sadder, than its two-and-a-half minutes would suggest. This same elegiacness occurs drifts through “English Clock Systems,” with a drawn out violin only adding to the worn out tone.

“Tunnel 1” and “Tunnel 2” contain most of the subterranean anxiety of the album, and as a result, are the darkest, most difficult tracks on the EP. “Tunnel 2” is especially successful in this sense, with ominous, resonating drones overlooking sounds of scraping and clattering, creating the sort of claustrophobic sense one might experience if lost in those tunnels way past sunset, desperately trying to crawl out. Meanwhile, the sounds of the outside — the movement of the wind, the songs of birds — exist just on the periphery of the song. Rather than make the darkness more bearable, the stark contrast with those external sounds serves only to increase it, and make it more desperate.

One of things that I find most effective about Epic45’s music is that so much of it is so short. While I enjoy atmospheric tracks that are of a longer length, perhaps because I love to lose myself in the gorgeous sounds, Epic45’s brevity actually increases the emotional impact. A track like “Cold Evening Colors,” which ends the album on a lovely, amorphous collage of fading, autumnal drones and blurred, sparse keys, sounds like it could stretch across the entire sky. But it ends after barely two minutes, and the listener is unable to wander much through the sounds, but must just live with the memory. And even listening to the song repeatedly does little to diminish that sense.

Like their labelmates July Skies, Epic45’s sound is far from adventurous, experimental, or ground-breaking. But they pursue the same sort of singular vision for their music. It’s a vision driven, not by trends or ambitions, but rather by memory. As they say on their Myspace page, their influences are not merely other bands, but rather such intangible things as “late summer, lonely farmsteads… saturday mornings as a child… smells that trigger memories… awkward englishness… the emptiness of modern life.” No wonder their music proves to be as evocative as it is (for me, at least).

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