First came the pandemic. Then Ben Holton (half of epic45) developed a severe back problem. The limited movement of quarantine was exacerbated by the inability to move without pain. The pleasure of the daily walk was curtailed. And yet, Holton persevered, reaching a turning point when discovering starlings nesting in the walls of his flat. “Life finding a way,” he writes. His slow recovery is documented on this CD and booklet of suburban photographs. To some, the images may seem mundane, yet we miss something profound when we take the ordinary for granted. As many of us learned over the past two years, the small, everyday pleasures of life keep us going more than the rare mountaintop experiences. Flowers grow among the weeds. Leaves turn into mulch.
As noted in our seasonal preview, Recovery is a welcome return to the classic epic45 post-rock sound. From the very start, the album is warm, welcoming and grateful, with shimmering guitars, confident drums and a sense that things are finally going in the right direction. At times, the music even borders on joy. One can imagine the twofold relief that Holton must have felt, experiencing a newfound appreciation of the little things while gradually recovering from excruciating pain. The artist sounds at peace, his compositions unhurried and calm. “A Brief Glimpse” even begins with the sounds of children and birds, a bucolic introduction that helps the listener to picture the artist-photographer meandering through his neighborhood, gaining new strength from the everyday.
The birds are still chirping in “Village Hall,” the album’s most intimate piece, highlighting Holton’s melodic sensibility. One wonders if the starlings comment, “Hey, some human is living in our flat!” The twinned guitars of “Small Glimmers” wrap around the listener like the arms of a spring jacket. James Yates contributes drums to “People Talking,” the new sound mirroring the reintroduction of social gatherings. The album’s most endearing title is “I’d Forgotten Hills,” which is a great way to remind people to leave the plaster and be rejuvenated in the plains.
As the drums return on the closing tracks, the tone grows brighter, Holton’s recovery accelerating, stretching from mind to body to audience. The highlighted rec in recovery suggests both recreation and recording, the color reminiscent of a red letter Bible. The process proves therapeutic for artist and listener alike. (Richard Allen)