Epic45 belongs to a small cadre of bands that, for the purposes of this review, I am going to term “nostalgists.” Other artists in this illustrious group include such luminaries as Hood, Piano Magic, July Skies, and Empress. Although the groups all share some similar sonic qualities — i.e. they all know a good atmospheric sound when they hear one — what really ties them together is this preoccupation with, well, nostalgia. And it’s not just their lyrics, or their love of melancholy atmospherics and sad melodies. It’s expressed in every facet of their existence, right down to the typefaces they use on their sleeve artwork.
All of these bands harbor a love for yesterday, for simpler and more wonder-filled times, for spending countless hours playing in autumn fields, for half-remembered childhood memories of staring out the window at the falling snow, etc. And while such themes could easily become heavy-handed and trite, the fact that these bands so wholly invest their music with said themes makes them work more often than not, drawing the listener into that same bittersweet mindspace. In other words, listening to an album by Hood or July Skies will probably cause you to start waxing nostalgic yourself.
Admittedly, you might have a hard time waxing nostalgic to Epic45’s latest, at least at first. At times, the EP veers towards some fairly abstract territory, more reminiscent perhaps of Hood’s most experimental phases (and then some) rather than July Skies’ moody soundscapes.
The EP’s opening track begins gently enough, with a field recording of a lovely spring day complete with distant traffic and the piping of birds. But soon, industrial rhythms begin clanging back and forth between the speakers, sounding fairly dub-like (but only if dub had begun in a locale similar to the cooling towers on the EP’s cover rather than Jamaica’s dancehalls). The song begins rather unfocused and off-kilter, but just wait for it. Soon, a gentle cascade of guitar and keyboard fragments begins to slowly issue forth, toning down the harsher bits enough for the trio’s dry, reverbed vocals to make their presence felt.
With its shimmering guitars and clipped programming, “Walk Led To Happiness” immediately brings up comparisons to Morr Music’s ranks, primarily Manual. But the track proves more interesting, from the warm static enveloping the song and the subtle melodic work to the dry English vocals and subtle yet effective cello. “Swerving To Avoid Falling Leaves” continues on the Morr Music tip with its ping-pong rhythms, but the “nostalgist” elements ultimately shine through thanks to such lyrics as “That day by the old school between terms/What was left of summer keeping us warm” and “We can sit and make plans/That we know we’ll never see/Filled to completion” delivered with a vocoder’s loving caress.
The EP winds down with “Onwards As The World Sinks,” a rolling instrumental piece that serves as the sonic version of the photo adorning the EP’s cover. Gentle guitars, sparse piano trickles, and measured drumming create a sense of pastoral motion, like a train travelling through some half-remembered field. At times, harsher, more ominous drones come swooping in overhead, looming overhead the way those smoke-belching cooling towers loom on the cover.
The fact that “Onwards As The World Sinks” still remains beautiful and evocative shows how well the trio is at combining such potentially disparate elements. And the fact that the song (and by extension, the disc) concludes with the pastoral sense intact is perhaps an indication where the band’s hearts and minds truly lie. Somewhere in yesteryear, always yearning for a place and time far more idyllic than the here and now. And every time I listen to Epic45, or any of their fellow “nostalgists,” I’m right there with them.