To say I love splits would be an understatement. However, since the discovery of this split’s existence sometime last year, it’s been hard not to be excited about the possibility of four bands of arguably totally different pedigrees coming together like this. Tigers Jaw, The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Self Defense Family and Code Orange Kids don’t have too much in common on the surface. But through a track a piece, that doesn’t keep the parts from creating a whole that shoots for artistic and heartfelt highs without feeling completely out of reach for the listener as the split progresses.
Tigers Jaw opens up with a short, but sweet emo-rock number “Fake Death,” an almost tongue-in-cheek stab at something considering the band is calling it quits in the near future. But where this track might not measure up to the others in terms of wall-of-sound effects and engulfing us in an aura – more on that later – it makes up for in crafting a balance of somber lyricism and hopefully poppy melodies. In short, it’s a sweet enough first bite into things – catchy enough to stick with you, but not particularly punching to feel completely out of place.
Code Orange Kids’ “IV (Worm Fears God // God Fears Youth)” is the first delve into outer space in terms of sound. The Kids’ LP Love is Love // Return to Dust gave us plenty to prepare us for in terms of where the group would take us sonically, but even as we face a submerging of sorts in distortion-soaked guitars more akin to alternative rock that creep with deliberate sways, the approach feels pushed even further away from the hardcore foundation the band boasts. Still, the band’s confidence in themselves makes the track feel just as natural as if it were on an Adventures effort, but the bite on the guitars and the focus on creating an aural environment for three minutes makes this feel at least cohesive, if not a little foreign, in the process.
Self Defense Family’s contribution of “Holy Trend” is the dividing point between the previous two songs in terms of songwriting approach. The droning use of the band’s array of instruments – including vocals – makes for a relatively static listen, but the drone is rather intoxicating as the almost folksy rasp of the titular lyrics is tough to deny. As the band adds and takes away musically, the simplicity behind the skeleton of the song feels more and more in control of the ship as the song floats along without a particular need for modern song structures via choruses or verses, at least in terms of differentiation in the movements. I would be hesitant to say that it is the least appealing track of the bunch, but there’s a hint of restraint that keeps the song from resolving to its potential at some point.
Finishing off the split is The World Is a Beautiful Place, as they hum into the finale with their usual pretense of shimmering guitars a la post-rock wavering. “Beverly Wyatt” builds as most TWIABP tracks do with rock-solid percussion and wandering leads before the verse kicks in – an almost predictable, but still instrumentally sound layering fans of the band are used to. The off-center vocals shine through the guitars and bubbling synth spots that pop up in the more energetic half of the track, only perhaps losing some steam in the sporadic layers of vocals once they kick in. But the slower resonation of the second half of the song shows the group at their higher aptitude for crafting truly engaging emo-rock with the full arsenal of their band – brass, synth and all. I think that while it isn’t the strongest they’ve done, it shows that they aren’t quite satisfied with phoning in something that is totally straightforward based on the tempo shift and inclusion of all the instruments they wield at some point throughout the track.
The thing about anticipating a split like this lies more in the fact that these four bands will share a common release, as it is difficult to really gauge how any one band fares against the others – especially considering that while almost each song is a fair indicator of its respective band, perhaps not all of them embody the band at their 100% best. But for anyone still diving into the blooming Topshelf Roster (and beyond), this feels more like a split that will get you to delve into these four bands more than anything else.