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Epstein - Murmurations

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 15 / 7 / 2013

Epstein - Murmurations
Label: Play It Again Sam
Format: CD


Instantly infectious and irresistible folk pop on second album from Oxford-based quintet, the Epstein

The Epstein’s debut album, ‘Last of the Charanguistas’, arrived in 2008 but never reached these ears. Apparently the album, which met with some good reviews, captured the band’s live sound pretty well, and displayed their brand of Americana / West-Coast folk rock perfectly; bands like Calexico and Fleet Foxes were mentioned. Not having heard that debut or yet seen the Epstein live, I can only say that for a band that pulled so many comparisons to American music the sound on ‘Murmurations’ is some of the most lush, well-played and so obviously British music I’ve heard in some time. So either the band have taken a new direction here or these ageing ears need adjusting… The Epstein are based in Oxford and have been making a name playing a number of festivals in the UK and Europe, so the track already taken from this album for a single, ‘I Held You Once’ (which is one of those once heard never forgotten little jewels of a pop/rock song that won’t leave you alone) may well be already rattling around inside your head. Hailed as being West-Coast folk rock wrapped in a Spector wall of sound obviously does prove that a trip to the doctor is my next port of call to get those flappy things on the side of my head checked, as the version that’s been on constant play around these parts since the album arrived is as English as a pot of tea on a Sunday afternoon. The lead vocalist (probably guitarist and founder Olly Wills but could well be Jon Berry who also handles vocals and guitar across the album and was there at the birth of the Epstein with Wills) displays his quintessentially English vocals over a lightly strummed acoustic before the song eventually bursts into a stadium anthem that’s simply irresistible. Although the epic proportions of the song share that with the work of Spector, the band really have created a song here that really does stand on its own merits and really do create a sound and identity of their own. The best song hasn’t been lifted for the single either. The task of choosing a song for special attention from the eleven original tracks on ‘Murmurations’ in fact must have been something of a headache. Any one of these songs could be ‘singled’ out. Although taking over a year to record the album and taking in studios in Oxford, London and Bremen, there is not only a loose connection between the songs lyrically but each track seems to take elements of what has gone before and build on it. At the same time it is all done so seamlessly that it sounds like the album was recorded over a short period of time and in one place. The best albums are those that just when you think you know where the band is coming from musically they throw you completely off course. The opening song, ‘Morning News’, has you thinking that here is yet another band who have taken folk influences and used them to produce a rousing sing-along with an infectious melody, albeit very well played and produced, but by the end of the song something hints that there’s at least a little more to this quintet than we’ve come to expect from the ever-growing folk-rock circle. ‘Sophia Loren’ the following track confirms this. Again blessed with a gorgeous melody (something the Epstein are masters at given the way their songs swoop and soar on this album) it’s a fitting cinematic soundscape the band create here. With world-weary vocals pulling you in with every word, it’s a compelling piece of music. ‘Chimes’ initially has the listener thinking that it’s going to develop into a dreaded prog-rock work out; it doesn’t, what the song develops into is another extremely atmospheric, catchy pop-rock anthem that again is impossible to resist. ‘Hudson’ displays just how strong vocally the Epstein guys are. With keyboardist Sebastian Reynolds and bassist Humphrey Astley also providing exceptional backing vocals (not just on this song but throughout the album) this band must be one of the most vocally gifted groups we have at the moment. The playing is immaculate throughout too. It’s not so often that you feel you have to give special mention to the drummer in a band but it has to be said that without Tommy Longfellow’s contribution to these songs they wouldn’t shine as much, especially on songs such as ‘Hudson’. ‘Murmurations’ is an accomplished set of songs, beautifully played and produced. It is impossible not to reach for the album whenever you get the chance, its appeal is instant but the songs lose none of their charm even after dozens of plays. It’s a lush sound while still displaying emotion in every line. The Epstein; definitely one of the best British bands around at the moment.

Track Listing:-
1 Morning News
2 Sophia Loren
3 Chimes
4 Hudson
5 Between Dog And Wolf
6 I Held You Once
7 Ring On Her Finger
8 Another Band Had Gone
9 Calling Out Your Name
10 November
11 Into Daylight

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