Speed Not Steel – Split Double EP

Speed Not Steel
Split Double EP

I’m not sure why there’s two discs here, since each band contributes an EP’s worth of material and the overall length isn’t greater than a single disc, but that doesn’t matter, because I’m sure Lujo isn’t charging more. Hidari Mae and Speed Not Steel are both from the west coast, and Speed Not Steel frontman Josh Myers used to be a member of Hidari Mae (fronted by his brother Andy Myers). While the bands compliment each other nicely, there’s definitely a difference in sounds, and by keeping the two bands separate, you’re able to make the comparison even easier – and listen to just your favorite if you could choose a favorite.

Hidari Mae has an obsession with archaic instruments like vintage synths and Theremins, and you can hear quite a bit of that on these songs, but those instruments mix nicely with intricate percussion and lovely, melodic guitar. The songs themselves are moody, slow-paced but extremely rich. “Interim,” the opener, is gorgeous, with male and female vocals mixing beautifully. Jen Wood (solo artist, Postal Service, Joan of Arc, etc.) contributes to many songs here, and her gorgeous voice is a wonderful accompaniment.

These songs are deeply pretty and soft. “In the Name of Science” has gorgeous piano work, and there’s some gorgeous, shimmering synths used nicely on “Someday” and on “Trapdoors,” the latter gaining an almost ambient, Red Stars Theory-style feel. Much darker in tone, “The Richest, Sweetest Red” feels a bit similar to Black Heart Procession. By contrast, “November, 1950” feels like the soundtrack to a dream, soft and rich and deeply moving.

Speed Not Steel is a bit more upbeat, less moody. Featuring two members of Cutless Supreme and Mercury, Speed Not Steel’s music is influenced by pop and rock as well as folk and avant-garde music. There’s a host of unique instrumentation used here, from harmonica and melodica to trombone and glockenspiel and violin (the latter contributed by Red Stars Theory’s Seth Warren, who seems to be making the rounds these days). Despite a more accessible feel than Hidari Mae’s, there’s some interesting experimentation with instrumentation here that’s extremely intriguing.

While it would be quite a shift from Hidari Mae’s closer to Speed Not Steel’s opener, “Anything isn’t Everything,” it works well with the split CDs. This upbeat track is lively and energetic, almost a living beast in and of itself. My favorite track is “I Lost the Battle,” with its catchy chorus of “How can it be everything I’ve left behind is still in front of me, lingering?” Backing vocals on “Dying Slow” and the glockenspiel sounds (by Andy Myers) are fantastic additions to this retro-poppy song. “Losing You” is surprisingly catchy for having a more melancholy tone, and the closing “Days Away” goes for a prettier, more light sound.

These two bands, despite their connections, have quite different approaches while still sounding comfortable together. The best split releases are with bands that are similar enough but not too similar, and this one pulls it off quite well. Oddly enough, I can’t choose a favorite. Whichever disc I listen to is my favorite just then, making this one phenomenal release. Another fine feature from Lujo.