By Various Artists
The split single can look deceptively simple - two bands that stand up well in isolation can incur a musical car crash when unsuccessfully married on release. It's one of those improbably complicated tasks, more often than not undertaken with little discretion. After having alarmed you all with this nightmarish and pretty hyperbolic description, the news that Louder Than Bombs' alliance of Ali Whitton and the Broke Record Players with Sarah Williams and the So Called Friends fundamentally works will look even more heartening.
Individually, both musical contributions are full of character and soul. Whitton's songwriting, while sometimes leading you to question his emotional stability (in only the most endearing fashion), never shakes your belief in his ability. Lyrics on both of his tracks sidestep the loutish style of most songs and are poetic without being too alienating. Even "Tomorrow Will Be Storms" which is thematically standard fodder of a love lost is so gracefully expressed that it really puts most other lyricists to shame. Ali's vocal style really complements the lyrical content in its innate vulnerability. The immediate motherly reaction that he needs a cup of tea and huge amounts of commiseration shows he's doing a sterling job as a singer-songwriter. Tomorrow Will Be Storms' chord progression and strumming pattern are also absolutely gorgeous. Second track "The Boy Who Lived And Died In Vain" shows a little more mettle than victim mentality, with aggressive language almost tumbling out of Whitton's vocals in an increasingly verbose style. This song also gives his band Broke Record Players more of a showcase, with some impressive string flourishes and a brilliantly fuzz-y guitar solo, although there are some very prominent backing vocals which seem to gel less successfully.
The entrance of Sarah Williams' "That's Not Me" establishes her as a Yang to Whitton's Yin - if you ignore the misnomer of the masculine/feminine aspect. Although still sufficiently emotional, Williams' bright vocals and spryly syncopated guitar part are a wakeup call from Whitton's sometimes contagious depression. Beautifully airy pop songs seem to come very naturally to her but it's the voice that really makes them gleam, sounding honeyed but still delicate. In terms of instrumental parts, "Song Or Souvenir", gets the sublime moment in its textural build-up of fairylike lines.
Even with the sketchy production, it's clear that both independently show huge aptitude and the split single is an unprecedented treat. It would have been very easy to have forced together a pair of singer-songwriters on an EP just on the basis of stylistic connections but more thought has obviously been put in: it has paid off. Williams and Whitton make a surprising match, but a winning one. It works so well in fact, that I feel obliged to drop the hint that collaboration could well be a very smart move.