Album Review – Architecture of the Ages by The Hepburns feat: Estella Rosa (2021) (Elefant Records)
Across 13 albums and 35+ years, Llanelli (Wales) based act, The Hepburns, have always seemed intent on cementing their reputation as the one honourable sophisti-pop act that was allowed into the C86 gang. Smoother than a Tory politician, they simply could not become any more polished, could they?
Then, courtesy of lockdown interactions between the two parties, along came Estella Rosa of the jangly indie-pop Nah band fame, to stress test the absolute elasticity of melodic sophisti-pop and try and discover at exactly what point such an aesthetic might eventually go twwwwwaaannnngggg !!?
Essentially, the album is separated by slight nuaces in tempo shift, rather than any reduction in goregeous. As such we see tracks such as The Other Side of Grey, Five Miles of Line, What Was Not Became What Was and Northern Europeans best represent the albums more sprightly, obviously alluring half.
All sacharinne sweet, male/female call and response vocals, inter-changing backing vocals, melodies that cavort between the cracks that separate twee-pop, indie-pop and the absolute flourishes provided by traditional sophisti-pop production, this is where Bacharach would have ended up if he had an indie heart rather than one that beats pure schmaltz.
When the tempo shifts downwards a modicum, as best heard in The Telephone, Seagulls on a Frozen Lake and Mermaid, extra layers of emotionality simmer through the pop. Like Watoo Watoo being forced through a 70s filter, all these tracks have that special feeling of inimitable retro cool. This is the sounds that high brow nerds would choose for the back-drop to their sexy time. Precise and deliberate, smooth and bop melodic, this would have them shedding their sexiest cardigans in no time.
I am not sure whether this is a union of musical parties that will continue or whether it is intended as a one off gift to the world. However, it is so very special that you kind of get the impression it has to…?