Never let it be said that I have anything against collaborative records. Quite the opposite, in fact: there are loads of things knocking about in here (especially recently, where the trend has really taken off) where like-minded souls have wandered slightly off their contractually obliged pathways to make an album or two with friends and like-minded souls. Wonderful as that carry-on is, it’s pushing that other musical staple – the split record – to the sidelines somewhat. I suppose the death (more or less) of vinyl didn’t help matters much either, as the double-sided CD is something that never caught on and not having a whole side to oneself kind of takes some of the fun out of things.
So it’s nice that this old tradition has been given a new lease of life by Hush Arbours and Arboretum, mutual fans and touring partners who decided to do something together, albeit in separate halves.
First up come Hush Arbors, essentially San Franciscan Keith Wood. As is usual with these affairs, there’s generally one side to the split which is more familiar than the other to the buyer, and this for me is the unknown. His five tracks are laid-back and lo-fi West Coast liltings that put the listener in an easy frame of mind. Keith’s high, dreamy vocal takes a little while to adjust to, but once the brain slows down a bit to take in the pace, it all fits in nicely.
There’s a hint of Pearly Gate Music in the execution of this half of Aureola in its combination of acoustic and electric, and even when it’s more of the latter than the former the pace is still happily less than urgent as with People & Places and Prayer Of Forgetfulness. It’s at its lazy best with the gentle drive Up Yr Coast, perfect as an accompaniment for short walks with no discernible destination, which is happily something I try to fit into most of my working day. All in all, this represents a fine introduction to an artist that I’ll be more than happy to look further into.
There’s a definite gear change between sets as Arbouretum take their turn, even if the general pace remains somewhat languid. The intro to New Scarab retains the relaxed and steady pace, but Hush Arbors’ personable folkiness gives way to something much more stately, Arboretum’s approach to slowness being something more sedate and structured than their recordmate’s unhurried performance. Their songs also contain a general bigness that goes beyond the length of their three tracks on offer here (5:46 being the briefest), with lengthy and very fuzzy instrumental passages throughout that are in absolutely no rush to get from one end to another, reminiscent of arch-pedestrians Om. Helped along by Dave Heumann’s clear and careful vocals delivered with pastoral charm, this half of the split retains that feeling of travelling with the emphasis on the journey rather than where it goes. It all ends joyously with St. Anthony’s Fire, plucking ghosts of 1970s English folk-rock from the ether with aplomb and having a huge amount of fun with it all, with another huge fuzzed-up instrumental passage that takes up most of the song. This mention of hearkening back reminds me that I have a confession to make: had I remembered what year I had actually bought it in, this band’s The Gathering would have featured very highly in my top “however many it was” of 2011. Their half of Aureola continues in much the same vein with big riffs and hearty vocals, and with just the three songs on offer here, I now can’t wait for future endeavours from this band.
The end result is almost 40 minutes of what feels like the World’s Tiniest Festival: two acts that have the same ethos but different approaches, pulling together at their own private pace and complimenting each other’s earthy charms without particularly sounding remotely alike. We need more Split Albums like this.