Consisting of the first solo material from Matt Vincent (The American Scene) and Alex Correia (The Tower And The Fool), this split places two incredible frontmen from fantastic bands alongside one another to make for one of the best releases from the first half-ish of 2013. It’s not the sort of album you’re going to bump with your friends when you’re throwing a party or something you’re going to turn up with the windows down as you’re speeding along the highway (or, maybe it is and you live a life that I want), but this EP is something you’re going to want to listen to over and over again with the lights low and your headphones on. If you’re like me and you love melancholic nighttime-variety songs, this release will draw you in and keep you company for many late hours to come.
“Wicked Thirst” starts the split off in a way that’s reminiscent of “Untitled” from The American Scene’s Safe For Now, with acoustic strumming and a melodic line coming through from slight changes in the chords. Matt’s voice is somber and haunting as he sings lines like “oh sickness unto death, is that my name on your breath?” and “I sleep so much better when you’re in bed alone.” As always, his writing is immensely personal and and emotional, with his inflection giving a visceral life to the words. There’s a powerful fragility in the way he sings, and it’s utterly compelling. The guitar part is deceptively complex, plays with the vocals wonderfully, and combines with the imagery in the lyrics to make for a very moving song indeed.
Though I’d previously never listened to the original “Sad Eyes” by Bat For Lashes before listening to Matt’s rendition, I’m now in love with both versions. Translating a minimalist piano part into guitar strums and backing everything with an atmospheric ambient part, the instrumental environment is flawless in its simplicity and weight. The lyrics play out perfectly into a major theme from the rest of the songs on the EP, with “autumn’s hue in those sad eyes” mirroring “autumn’s ending love” in “Wicked Thirst” and the overall tone of the track falling directly in line with the heaviness of everything else. I’m normally not huge on cover songs being mixed in with original work, but I’d kill for more covers from Matt after hearing this one.
“Muslin” takes a significantly quicker pace than the other two cuts on the first half of the split, with a more elaborate guitar part taking off like the start of a new chapter at the close of “Sad Eyes.” The song as a whole comes across as a sort of prequel to “Wicked Thirst,” with the idea in former’s chorus of not being brought down countering the line “I dragged you through the dirt” near the beginning of the latter. There’s a wonderful juxtaposition between the repeating “you wouldn’t weigh me down, you’d never touch the ground” and heavier lines in the verses such as the listing “it’s a bed, it’s a friend, it’s an early grave” and “it’s every little thing I use to fill up my day between ‘I’m fading, I’m sorry’ and ‘I’m doing okay.'” This track is the most musically dynamic of Matt’s portion of the EP, with ambient parts coming through on the choruses and fading away for verses and a flowing bridge that does a great job of setting up the final chorus. Perhaps the biggest departure from past material on the split, this song keeps true to the emotion and power I’ve come to expect from Matt while exploring new melodic territories.
Opting for a slightly more filled-out sound than the other half of the split, Alex’s “I Run With The Haunted” features several layered guitar guitar parts and relies less on strummed chords, though the ambient elements continue through into his half. His voice is earnest in expressing concern, and lines like “when everything you love is everything you break and everything you hold starts to slowly slip away” come out organically to make you feel them as universal sorts of truth from the very first listen. The way that Alex plays with space in the instrumentation of the second verse provides some satisfying variety and fits the structure of the lyrics masterfully. The brief lead into the second chorus is the sort of moment you want to just live in, and the bridge/outro combo makes for an extremely effective ending.
The lyrics of “Let It Ride” are filled with powerfully simple dialogue, from “it’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place” to “but you know what some say – home is where your heart remains, and I think I left mine at your place.” This writing technique is one of the things that made The Tower And The Fool’s How Long such an incredible record; Alex’s ability to weave stories through conversations, both direct and overheard, is unmatched. The song picks the pace back up from “I Run With The Haunted” with some great guitar work, while the structure of the song and the way it leaves plenty of space in the instrumentation for the recurring “I’ll keep guessing” portion shows a strong sense of complete songwriting abilities that extends beyond simply putting well-written words to melody.
“Corinna” is the darkest of Alex’s contributions, both musically and lyrically. The instrumentation has a wandering western feel, with plenty of space and well-timed notes crying out in response to the vocals. There’s strong lyricism throughout the track, but when the “you don’t know what love means” motif gives way to the final portion of the song, it’s perhaps the best moment of the entire split. The imagery of “the way the wind rolls over wheat fields” provides the perfect metaphor for feeling something you can’t see, while the lines “love is giving everything; it’s giving it all away without expecting anything” releases all of the tension that had been building throughout the song in a swift and powerful bit of writing. When the final notes of the song ring out, it’s a satisfying end to the split, even if it does leave you wishing this was more than just an EP.
Almost every time someone has asked me for music recommendations in the past year or so, I’ve responded with either Safe For Now, How Long, or (most commonly) both. In my year-end lists for 2012, I ranked the two records at #2 and #6, respectively, and, looking back, they were both placed too low. A considerable part of why those two records hit me so hard was the fact that they weren’t things I was heavily anticipating. There’s a certain level of breathing room that those sorts of listens afford, but that room also works the other way in that the band has to fill the space with something that leaves you wanting to return. It’s make-or-break. This split, by contrast, instead had to live up to the quality of things that I love dearly. Matt Vincent and Alex Correia set expectations for this release very high, purely on the merits of the albums they put out with their bands last year. In the end, this venture into solo material isn’t a drastic departure, and it doesn’t have to be, because these songs are great. Though side projects generally leave me preferring and wanting more from one endeavor than the other, I can’t say that for the musicians featured on this split. I could take continuing full-lengths of this material or be comfortable with a complete return to full-band work. As long as I keep getting music of this quality on a regular basis, I’ll happily take whatever these two want to do, however they want to do it.