50s doo-wop, 90s indie and retro pop combines for a puzzling debut release.
David Quantick 2011-08-16
Annie Nero, Dawn Landes and Lauren Balthrop are three young women who are strongly influenced by the music of the past. In this case, their influences are a lightly fruity blend of 1940s pop – The Andrews Sisters, anything with a Hawaiian guitar and a harmony – 1950s doo-wop and, to a very small extent, 1990s indie pop. Their debut album is a breathy, slightly short-feeling collection of songs old and new which have the mild incoherence of an unrehearsed live set.
The vocal performances are excellent – the Splits manage to blend all the styles that make up their own into a fantastically confident and appealing sound. When it’s at its best – as on opening track Sometimes, which could be from a classic John Peel session – this record takes bits of almost every musical era and makes something new out of the clutter of parts. But all too often the album’s range feels random and not entirely thought-out. It veers from doo-wop to a cappella to cute French (Lavez Vous) and all points south. None of these songs sound bad in isolation – the faux-60s shimmer of Ricky Dee is particularly charming, as is the excellent recreation of oldie Hawaiian Love Song – but put together the results are a little disjointed.
It’s early days for the trio, which only formed this year, so it’s possible that they just don’t have enough original material to make a powerful enough set. There’s a sense that their sound is as yet unformed, which could be why it veers so wildly, like a cabaret act with ADHD. This collection might have been released better as a series of EPs; or perhaps could have waited until its makers had the material to really make good on the flashes of potential. As it is, it sounds like the Splits are caught somewhere between being an excellent covers act, interpreting oldies like an indie Manhattan Transfer, and being a fresh and original trio with a musical viewpoint that combines, rather than flatly copies, their influences.