North Atlantic Drift & Northumbria – Split (Polar Seas Recordings, 2014)

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Splits are a funny business; sometimes the right two artists align and create really beautiful, haunting records where they’re both in tune (like last year’s Aaron Martin/Christoph Berg split for example), and sometimes it feels a little out of place and disjointed, oftentimes biased. The new North Atlantic Drift/Northumbria split, in my mind, is something of the latter; that’s not to say that it’s a weak record necessarily, but I have some concerns about the flow and the juxtaposition of tracks with this release.

North Atlantic Drift take the first half of the album and, sadly, I’m moderately unimpressed by their creations. Their three opening movements focus down on particular stars and constellations in “Ursa Minor”, “Polaris” and “Ursa Major”, but barely invoke the mystery or the lonely isolation you’d expect. The opener, “Ursa Minor”, sort of befits its nickname of the Little Dipper; a short and relatively sweet introductory burst of unassuming, downtempo synth drones and flat percussive slaps, slipping quickly into the centerpiece of its cluster with followup “Polaris”. “Polaris” has a nice Slowcore groove to the minimalistic acoustic guitar riff that slowly and steadfastly circles the heart of the track, living up to its stable and predictable namesake in its sparsely evolving constructions. “Ursa Major” has a bit more meat on its bones but remains oddly delicate, summoning up a rather more humble but still majestic and finally more celestial atmosphere through the shimmering reverb the fragile glockenspiel creates, hinting at the black void it’s suspended in.

The final bastion of North Atlantic Drift’s sound lies just beyond the halfway mark in their last inclusion “Perpetual Daylight”, which is something of an awkward segue piece into Northumbria’s part but rather beautiful as an entity on its own. It’s the most Ambient work of the album so far, losing much of the random electronica and acoustic instrumentation of its (weaker) siblings to usher in graceful, gliding, warm synth lines as an ode to the most important star within our lives. It’s radiance is sullied immediately by the dark and heady sub-bass drones of “Cold Wind Rising”, however, a track fashioned from much the same cloth as many of Thomas Koner’s ominous and icy Drone works. It’s a fantastic piece though, hinting at some ruined underlying melody hidden beneath its distant and frozen drones and low-fidelity distortion. Lastly, “Vanishing Point” appropriately carries us over the horizon as the closing track, a similarly gorgeous but rather different creation that holds on to some of those deep drones of “Cold Wind” but marries them with the guitar lines we saw on “Polaris”, slowly and imperceptibly dissolving them into circular waves of luscious shoegazing fuzz before gracefully disappearing over the edge.

Whilst I recognise the similarities that the cold isolation of glaciers share with the lonely stars, I just can’t help but feel that NAD don’t really evoke that sensibility at all, and it loses a sense of continuity or logical flow within the album as a result. “Perpetual Daylight” tries to blur the distinction between the two artists’ differences but only, in my mind, forces more attention to the disparity; “Vanishing Point” may have been a more logical choice in its place with its crushed guitar riff slowly decaying and then moving into the bleak “Cold Wind Rising”, but that’s just me. Perhaps it’s just a case of me not being particularly enthusiastic and deliberately nitpicky but I’ve become increasingly more underwhelmed with North Atlantic Drift’s side of this record as time has gone on; that being said, Northumbria have made some gorgeous Drone works in the latter half and should be commended.

You can take a listen for yourselves over at the Polar Seas Bandcamp page here.

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