Our album of the week (6th July 2012)
Breaking up is hard to do. Especially when you’ve just hit thirty and its with a partner you’ve spent the best part of a decade with. Plus, you’ve just reached a creative dead-end with your band. Many songwriters would beat a hasty retreat to the bedroom with their pain in tow. Ben Holton of epic45 took a different approach. Instead of brutally analysing everything in microscopic detail through music, he decided to retreat into creating a classic pop record, exploring the sounds that dominated his childhood. In his mum’s utility room.
Holton’s first album under the My Autumn Empire alias, The Village Compass, was a collection of intricate folk songs, recorded alongside epic45’s output over five years. II is a more cohesive affair, with the songs laid down over a relatively short period of time in the Autumn of last year. Although a regression into the sounds of youth sounds like a simplification, Holton found it was a period of experimentation, embracing new kinds of song structures distinct from anything he’d attempted previously, incorporating key changes, middle eights and multi-part harmonies.
Taking musical cues from the solo output of The Beatles - the album’s title is a nod to McCartney’s II - the eight songs presented here draw on the lyrical and musical conceits that are the lifeblood of great pop songs, with Holton’s words serving the infectious melodies, universal enough to resonate with anyone who has been the victim of cruel love. There’s an avoidance of the maudlin and melancholy; ‘The Give Up’ is a meditation on how far a little hope goes, while ‘Help Me Out’s’ sense of directionless is heightened by the shimmering retro-futuristic synths that recall ELO’s spacey synthesis of The Beatles and 1970s prog. Holton was taken with the warmth and grandeur of this distinctly unfashionable Birmingham band, a mainstay of Midlands charity shops to this day. Recreating their soaring synths on cheap, outmoded keyboards creates an uncanny beauty, their redundancy reflecting Holton’s fear of personal and creative burnout.
There’s a dark humour running through II, which opens with ‘Every Now And Then I Fall Apart’; a reference to Bonnie Tyler and a nod to just how ridiculous and essential heartbreak and pop music are. The saccharine harmonies and an irresistible melody of first single ‘Say it Again’ initially obscure its dark heart, a murderous suburban revenge fantasy. Not your typical ‘music as therapy’ record, then. It shares the uncertainty and ambiguity of Wilco’s Summerteeth and Grandaddy’s The Sophtware Slump. The final track on II is a acoustic reworking of the This Heat song, Sleep.
1. Every Now And Then I Fall Apart
2. The Give Up
3. Help Me Out
6. Say It Again (I'll Kill You)
7. Briar and Brush
Be the first to review 'II' by My Autumn Empire. Best customer review each week wins a £10 voucher!