Album Review: Speedboat – Split The Bill EP

[0800-Moshi-Moshi; 2021]

Anyone who has brothers or sisters likely knows of sibling synergy. You might know a similar version of it when you meet a new friend and/or significant other and it feels like you are two versions of the same person, always ready to finish each other’s… sandwiches. But with siblings it’s more honed and deep-rooted; even when you’re not close, you still have this shared lifetime of familial nostalgia, experience, and in-jokes that bond you together for life.

It’s no surprise, then, that when two siblings come together to make music the results have an energy that you know is there, the kind that exudes without flair or fuss. You might find it in the way notes bounce around and between each other, or the way certain lines sound like they’re sung with a knowing smirk, but no scientific data could identify as a tangible and measurable thing. It’s the kind of energy that brothers Johnny and William Griffiths conjure up and capture on Split the Bill, their debut EP as Speedboat

Creating on the back a newfound love of their father’s record collection, the duo make music heavily-indebted to 80s indie pop and new wave; they wear this influence clearly on their sleeves, and it only adds to the music’s charm. “I Only Saw Her From Behind” recasts Spandau Ballet’s “Gold” in a murky hypnotic air, while upbeat “Dog Toy” is like a missing Devo cut that sounds just as fun now as it would have been were it released 40 years ago.

With an ear for both flashy flourishes and plentiful details, the six tracks on Split the Bill always offer something to latch onto. Aforementioned “Dog Toy” throws in sparkling and glassy guitar strums alongside its jittery, danceable beat; the zippy synth riff on “bigboy123” bounces off the sugary keys; and the effervescent surf-pop of “Beat Your Mind” even manages to throw in a couple of musical and lyrical references to Grease as the Griffiths brothers cast light on unrealistic Hollywood romances. There’s always something to listen out for that makes these tracks a delight to return to over and over, be it a clownish deep voice playing with some multi-tracked call and response, or some background yelping thrown into the mix.

Even the EP’s weakest track, “Ready”, has plenty of busy bass work and a final flourish of tropical guitars to appreciate. The only reason the track fares that bit less is that it winds down the energy a few notches, killing some of the momentum the previous tracks build up. There’s still a summery bounce to it though, like LA duo Kisses caught in the studio before they add a glitzy sheen on top; Johnny Griffiths’ musing over moving on from a relationship too fast only fastens the comparison all the more. “I’m not ready to find new love after the last time / I don’t want to say that you’re to blame,” he sings with a defeated exhale.

Maybe for some it’ll all be a little too kitsch and goofy, or the brothers’ muddy vocals might take away from the 80s gleam the music recreates, but that’s where Split the Bill thrives: it evokes a feeling of nostalgia but isn’t afraid to cast it through a lens that allows for reinterpretation. Opening track “Madeira Nights” throws fuzz, screeches, and woozy guitar effects over a stomping and bastardized 12 bar blues structure, while “I Only Saw Her From Behind” isn’t afraid to saturate the whole tone. 

No matter the odd direction the music goes, both brothers seem ready to take the unexpected turn with the other. It can sometimes feel like looking at a photo negative instead of the picture stuck in the family album, but that’s what sibling synergy does: it takes the past and channels it through a lens personal to the creators. It’s only our good fortune as listeners that the synergy is so infectious that listening to Speedboat feels like you’re reliving the past with the Griffiths brothers.