May Your Heart Be the Map by Epic45 (Review)

Music that, despite its sometimes painful awkwardness and delicacy, is capable of reminding us of something we’ve long forgotten.

The title of Epic45’s latest is more than just a little apt. The duo of Ben Holton and Rob Glover (with help from Matt Kelly and July Skies’ Antony Harding) may be inspired by long, meandering traipses through the rural English countryside, especially when it is transfixed in the glint of summer twilight or caught up in the thrall of a winter chill. And they may fill their album artwork with photos of such landscapes.

But the twelve songs that make up May Your Heart Be the Map aren’t at all concerned with geographical accuracy. Rather, as the album’s title implies, they are much more concerned with charting the way these countrysides imprint themselves on the heart and the memory — when they are seen, not through cameras and binoculars, but through nostalgia, melancholy, and homesickness, or what C.S. Lewis might have described as sehnsucht.

This sentiment is best expressed in ​“Summers First Breath”: amidst shuffling, glitchy electronic rhythms and delicately picked guitars — which are May Your Heart Be the Maps primary building blocks — Harding’s sad, fey vocals wistfully sigh ​“Church bells over fields/​And hope in our heavy hearts/Don’t just sit there, look outside/​Leave the house far behind/​This world’s a mess/We’ll stumble through/​Windswept and weatherworn/​So much to do.”

Again, it isn’t so much a desire to explore the geography of the band’s home in the English Midlands that we’re hearing here, as it is a desire to, as Holton puts it, turn memories into sounds. To recreate, within the context of electronica-tinged post-rock, the way life felt back in some half-remembered/half-imagined summer evening from some childhood that might actually exist in one’s bucolic vision of such.

At times, this means the music does become a little trite, a little too ethereal and pretty and light for its own good. The inclusion of samples of children talking and whatnot seems a little too obvious for a band that’s trying to be as soft and plaintive as Epic45 is here.

But when the elements converge, when the group truly lets the mood take them over rather than try to shape it, the results are nothing less than transporting, perhaps even transcendental. So what if Epic45 is attempting, with their delicate samplers and shimmery guitar effects, to conjure up too-idyllic memories of summers and autumns that didn’t really exist anywhere in time? That doesn’t mean there’s not Truth somewhere in their music.

When I hear Harding’s gentle voice on ​“Summers First Breath,” as it slowly gives way to gossamery guitars and windchimes, or when silvery guitar chords shine forth and out from the heart of ​“The Stars In Spring“ ​‘s delicate melodies like so many stars’ light piercing some dense fog, or the barely tangible electronic tones on ​“The Stars In Autumn” and ​“The Balloonist,” I’m all too often reminded of ​“that unnameable something” Lewis mentions when attempting to describe his peculiar feeling of sehnsucht.

And even moreso, I feel it, somewhere deep inside, and in a manner that only music is capable of creating. And for that, I’m thankful for artists like Epic45 and their fellow nostalgists (July Skies, Hood, Piano Magic, Library Tapes, et al). This is music that, despite its sometimes painful awkwardness and delicacy, is capable of reminding us of something we’ve long forgotten. That enables us, like Chesterton’s castaway wandering along the shore, to discover fragments and elements and mementoes of somewhere we’ve never been, but somewhere that is still more familiar than anywhere else.