Review Summary: Jesu start their fall from grace; luckily Battle of Mice are there to pick up the pieces.
In a way, split albums are more interesting to analyze than regular full-length albums because a lot of times the bands influence each others' sound in the studio. It's especially great when two completely different bands get together to create a split album, because there's always a chance that they might combine elements of each others' sound to make something completely different than their norm. Battle of Mice's dark, heavy sound hugely contrasts Jesu's electronic, spacey shoegaze, and a combination of the two could have been stellar. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen on their 2008 split.
Battle of Mice's side is frankly amazing. "The Bishop" may not be the most powerful song they've written ("At the Base of the Giant's Throat," anyone"), but it is their most impressive in terms of songwriting. There has been much ado about the vocal talents of Julie Christmas, but she outdoes her performance on Battle of Mice's debut album A Day of Nights here, which is saying a lot. Her vocals on that album were basically split between a chilling spoken word style and a, well, chilling scream. However, on "The Bishop" she shows herself to be rather tuneful, but you wouldn't know it from the first few minutes. It starts with her creepy little girl voice before progressing into the first half of a huge chorus, where Josh Graham lays out an impressive riff with an equally impressive guitar tone, which can only be described as a melodic buzzsaw. The riff mimics Christmas' screamed vocal line to create an interesting effect; from what's been written about Christmas' and Graham's relationship, it's odd to hear them sync up so well. As if that wasn't interesting enough, Graham even contributes his gruff vocals to the song, with Christmas skipping theatrically atop of them, displaying a surprisingly great vibrato technique. For all the intensity and rawness she showed on A Day of Nights, Christmas still had a few surprises up her petite sleeves. The bridge past the halfway mark of the song is probably the heaviest moment in Battle of Mice's history, with the chorus leading straight into Red Sparowes-like territory. Graham almost steals the show from Christmas with his simple yet immense riffing and strong vocals, which is no small feat. "Yellow & Black" drifts into more traditional Battle of Mice territory, with a "Sleep and Dream" style spoken bit from Christmas before descending into a bass-heavy section. A third of the way through, Christmas lets loose with her most effective screams yet, the abruptness of their beginning and end making them more memorable. Although it's not as outright impressive as "The Bishop," "Yellow & Black" can easily hold its own against the songs on A Day of Nights.
Jesu don't fare as well on their side of the split, but they manage to turn out a decent set of songs. "Clear Stream" is the better of the two. Dreamy piano floats in a static-filled background underneath Justin Broadrick's spaced out vocals, which sound nice enough but aren't too memorable. The song achieves the simple goal of drawing the listener into a trance, and while "soundscapes" seems to be a hot musical buzzword right now, it hasn't yet gotten old to hear songs like "Clear Stream," which uses simple means to create an end that is nonetheless effective. The aptly titled "Falling From Grace" seems to be Jesu doing just that, as they try and fail to live up to Silver. Broadrick's vocals are enhanced with a Cynic-like robotic effect, a flourish that is neither necessary nor enjoyable. The song drifts on listlessly without doing the thing that this type of music is supposed to do: enveloping the listener with fuzzy walls of sound, creating a certain feeling through repetition and craftsmanship. "Falling From Grace" is merely elevator music with a robotic twist.
The always wonderful Battle of Mice save this split from Jesu's increasingly disappointing sense of irrelevance. They do what they do best with minimal outside influence, but honestly they really don't need it to craft great music. Jesu, on the other hand, could have stood to let a bit of Battle of Mice's darkness infect their side of the split. Oh well.
It's election day. Write in a vote for Julie Christmas.