Review Summary: さよなら銀河ステーション、こんにちは里心
It’s not often that you can pick out a relatively obscure group who eschew the need for any kind of contextual explanation, but try this one for succinctness: Split End are an all-girl group and play such a daydream-ready strain of exuberant power pop that you hardly have to glance their biography to tell that they formed as high school classmates. Their name is bemusing and a tad forgettable, their lyrics are Japanese and sung (tunefully) at high pitch, and their overall demeanour is overwhelmingly wholesome, peppy and more than a little sentimental; they rock out without getting aggressive and their performances are charged with palpable emotional sincerity. Put concisely, you can assume anything they put their name to is gloriously catchy pop-rock full of energy and a distinct bittersweet yearning.
While there’s nothing exactly groundbreaking about their blend of saccharine vocals, crisp overdrive and heavy nostalgic overtones, the band more than makes up for it by channelling their efforts into an absurdly infectious collection of earworms. The four songs on this EP are unextravagent, based around simple structures with straightforward progressions that lead toward simple hooks, each of which is incredibly well-placed. In any given song the band will hint at the main hook’s motif early on but take their time to gradually draw it out to its full, so that when it finally lands, it plays out like an ultra-focused encapsulation of the whole song. This is quite apt given that the motifs in question are too wistful to be outright euphoric; in their placement, they literally reminisce over the preceding sections of their songs. Anyway, Split End avoid overusing their strongest melodies, holding them in reserve as payoffs for when their songs have gathered enough steam. There’s proof of this in how for an amusingly long while, the only moment of highlight track Ginga Station
I could remember long was from when the song culminates in an absolutely sublime bridge and singer/guitarist Nanami belts out “さよなら銀河staaaaaaation
” with such nostalgic intensity that she might as well be about to witness the demolition of her childhood home. It’s not that the rest of it isn’t catchy or memorable, but that one iteration of that one melody in that one line is so perfectly placed that every one of the song’s (many) hooks feels like a precursor to it.
Withholding full satisfaction until the last minute and then not allowing it to overstay its welcome is a well-tested formula, but it takes disciplined songwriting to pull off and relies on having a sufficiently strong set of secondary hooks to make the song interesting and engaging in the first place. Split End deploy it to perfection here, making each track a deeply satisfying standalone listen yet also rich with a replay value that you can bet your sister’s birth certificate you’ll be signing up for - and when this EP hits
, you’ll know exactly why. It’s in the way Raincoat
kicks into gear in its final minute and effortlessly transforms from a tentatively momentous pop-rock stencil into a soaring rush of pop ecstasy that momentarily transcends every melodic and structural restraint asserted by the rest of the song before floating delicately back to earth; it’s in that otherworldly final bridge in Ginga Station
; it’s when the chorus of Ajisai no Hana o Miteita
bursts into life and runs away with every half-baked naive whim your 16-thru-21-year-old self ever conceived and then promptly forgot about. Instantly familiar yet impeccably executed, it’s moments like these that encapsulate not just what makes Split End great, but why shamelessly conventional pop sounds can sometimes be the most powerful thing in the world.
That same conventionality is nothing to hold against Split End. With album upon album of every musical innovation imaginable being fed into the world every month, there’s an occasional tendency for a would-be omniscient online music trawler to equate interesting music with important music and, more significantly, uninteresting music with unimportant music. On paper, Split End are uninteresting in the extreme: a girl group in a country with more number of girl groups than islands in its archipelago*; face-value pop-rock in an era where the West is tired of rock being face-value anything and holds it under jaded scrutiny as it cannibalises and reforges itself in fits and starts; saccharine nostalgia in a scene where all things saccharine and nostalgic have been played out to oblivion countless times before. At the end of the day, their primary draw has little to do with the strength of their craft and writing (though these certainly elevate things vastly!) and far more to do with the simple fact that this kind of energetic yet wistful sound done right carries a boatload of widely accessible emotional resonance. This is music for sunrises and sunsets over cluttered cityscapes and for the weary people within who, in spite of themselves, are still distantly in love with the dirt and chaos of their overstretched lives. It’s for the kind of people who used to fancy themselves as imaginative but nowadays are so susceptible to the most banal of escapist fantasies that they struggle to keep stray thoughts in check, and for the people who dream of running away from their everyday clamour and responsibilities but can’t seriously embrace the thought that the sprawling expanse of their metropolis would ever come to an end somewhere over the horizon. In short, it’s a short lasting, reminiscently directed patch of brightness that goes a long way for a listener sufficeintly mindful of the greyness surrounding their own here-and-now not to dismiss simple, wholesome thrills when they surface. Sometimes the simplest pleasures are the most valuable and if there are scores of similar bands all over the world dedicated to capturing this kind of rush, then Split End at least deserve credit for being one of the few whose craft and performance matches that easily-invoked ideal of a brief escape.
*probably. The archipelago clocks in at 6 852 islands, but if you broaden the definition of ‘girl group’ to include every female-fronted Japanese band active since 2000, I fancy their odds.