Fred Thomas has been responsible for my favourite albums of both 2017 and 2018, and though I’ve come late to Anna Burch’s debut, “Quit The Curse”, it’s also a fine record that’s been played rather a lot round here recently. So when it was announced that their tour split single was to be released for mailorder though their American label Polyvinyl, there was a brief sighing noise to be heard and a sharp sucking of teeth before Paypal was hastily activated and the money was coughed up for this pricey import 7″. £10 notes come and go, but Fred and Anna are forever.
The pair are long term collaborators, both on each other’s solo work and in their band Failed Flowers, so it’s unsurprising that they should share one or two obvious musical sensibilities. The key one to be found on both sides of this single is country. “Parkways” offers a kind of winsome, Byrdsian country rock, reminiscent of some of the material from last year’s brilliant “Changer‘ LP, but taken up a notch or two here, with the sweeping vocal chorus (augmented by Burch herself) giving it a bit more of a Nashville feel than previous efforts have had. Lyrically, Fred embraces his on-brand side, with another tale of “dark days” and a “slowly eroding mental landscape” that will be familiar to anyone who owns the recent, heart-stopping “Aftering” LP. But overall, the mood is more upbeat and the song ends on an uncharacteristically optimistic note, as a phantom repeatedly tells him “You will be happy, maybe not soon, but you will be happy” over the soaring, jangly guitar hook. It’s hardly an unequivocally positive message, but those of us accustomed to his recent doom and gloom can at least take a little more comfort than usual from this single, one that’s just as good as anything we’ve seen from him, which means that, all in all, it’s pretty fucking great.
“Quit The Curse” embraced country in a way that was surprising to those of us who’d only heard the snappy janglepop of Anna’s pre-LP singles and “Saint Adalbert” carries on in much the same vein, with her voice at its most plaintive on a tale of heartbreak and mixed messages. The verse is propelled by a rattling acoustic guitar and a smooth, stately bassline, moving into a chorus which adopts a similar Nashville-type swell to “Parkways” but with a far more lush, sensuous feel to it. At the end, Anna curiously sings of saying “an Irish goodbye”, which apparently involves quietly slipping away without a word, presumably to avoid further upset (this has also been rumoured to be to do with walking out a bar before you get your keys taken off of you, but I suspect she means the former here). The whole thing has a kind of sombre elegance about it that makes it another song that just begs to be listened to, and the two sides complement each other nicely in a way rarely found on a split single.
That this release consists of offcuts from two already excellent LPs shows that both artists have top drawer material to burn, and also serves as something to whet the appetite for the return of Failed Flowers next year, who already have a new single scheduled for release on Slumberland. But more to the point, this is a great record that, when the vinyl finally arrives, will be listened to again and again and again. Having paid a tenner for it, you can be absolutely certain I’m determined to get my money’s worth.
“Patkways”/”St Adalbert” is available to buy both at joint Fred Thomas/Anna Burch shows on their current tour, and online here: https://www.polyvinylrecords.com/product/fred_anna_split