The split EP is a curious format in the digital age. Whereas once it might have offered two up-and-coming acts a chance at wider exposure under the pressing and distributing infrastructure of a shared label, it’s now more of a curatorial exercise in juxtaposition and association. Albany’s Hand Habits and L.A.’s Peg are from opposite coasts, carry an independent web presence and fan base, and are doing pretty well on their own terms. By conjoining a set of EPs, though, they draw a fresh listening framework for themselves and each other, tap into a new audience, and help each rise a bit above the anonymity and interchangability of bandcamp.com.
What the two bands share is a kinship with Jed Davis, the Albany songwriter who heads Eschatone Records and released the set last month. Convenient, sure, but the pairing is sound. Subdued songwriting and expert guitar playing from prodigal female talent echoes between Peg’s Living With Abbreviation and Hand Habits’ Small Shifts. The first four tracks come from Peg’s Sheridan Riley, who’s better known for her drumming with Avi Buffalo. This EP is her first foray into the role of frontwoman, and it suits her. If the lyricism trends toward the emo, she’ll be the first to admit as much, but the whole thing is lent depth and maturity in the production and range of guitar colors. Riley’s mastery of classic- and indie-rock tropes belies her years.
Meg Duffy’s tremolo guitar and unadorned vocals continue the hazy atmospherics of the record when “Be Yr Man” arrives. It might be the best song she’s ever written. There’s something both crystalline and aquatic about the guitar lead embedded therein. It’s a genius hook that you instantly feel as though you’ve heard before. “Bloom” closes the set with the best antidote to eternal winter I’ve yet heard. It’s nine minutes of loamy guitar lope. A classic-country picking pattern tills up lyrics of growth and blossoming before celestial rays of feedback bake the song’s outro into a fertile bed of guitar drone, bells, found sound and bliss.