Slug Comparison – ‘IIb’ EP Review

Slug Comparison is the bizarrely-named side-project of Doug Harrison, who normally lights up the stars with the multi-faceted Fen. Dedicated to the memory of Eric Rose, Doug’s late roommate, ‘IIb’ is a two-track EP available digitally via bandcamp. Eric was heavily involved with Fen, his work becoming part of the band’s aesthetic (it was Eric who designed the band’s memorable logo) and so, aside from the very natural sense of loss that one might feel for a friend, there’s the further wrench that comes with losing a creative partner. ‘IIb’ is not, however, an exercise in mawkish sentiment. As might be expected from Slug Comparison, there is great beauty here, but like David Gilmour (who similarly paid tribute to fallen friends with the gorgeous ‘on an island’), there is a universality to the emotion Doug has tapped into, so that the songs are both a personal tribute and a wider meditation on loss. Eric Clapton once wrote that the blues, for him, were a way of creating joy out of heartbreak. Slug Comparison don’t play the blues, but it seems that the motivation behind these two elegant and life-affirming pieces of music is the same.   

Put simply, ‘when you were living here’ is a stunningly beautiful piece of music, possibly one of the most thrillingly gorgeous songs I have heard this year. Floydian in nature, it edges from a gentle acoustic lament towards more progressive pastures, with layered vocal harmonies and a Gilmour-esque solo emerging amidst the deftly-arranged strings (Sam Levin) which sweep over the track’s conclusion. Doug’s voice, reminiscent of Vincent Cavanagh in places, is seared with a sense of heartbreak and his performance near-overwhelming. His lead guitar work, meanwhile, deftly intertwines Gilmour-esque grandeur with a jazzy swing that allows for considerable scope and originality. It’s a song to lose oneself to and, over the course of this review, I have done so on a number of occasions. Somewhat more spacey is the gentle, shimmering ‘beings far away’, a track that sees Beatles-esque harmonies and syncopated percussion flow over one another in a mesmerising display of musicianship that is full of heart. It’s difficult to explain, but the music, which, in other hands, might be bowed down by the burden of grief, is full of hope, the alien themes woven into the fabric of the song suggesting otherworldly elements outside of our comprehension. Perhaps it’s just the delight that Doug continues to take in drawing the listener outside of convention, but it seems the music here transcends loss and becomes a far more moving tribute to his friend as a result.

‘IIb’ was produced by, and recorded with, Mike and Dave Young (Devin Townsend), and it sounds simply stunning. At the outset of ‘when you were living here’, the recording is so naked and intimate, you can hear the scrapes of the strings and Doug’s intake of breath, whilst later, as the song builds to its crescendo, the separation achieved between the layers of instrumentation is best enjoyed via an expensive stereo system or a set of good headphones. The EP as a whole is something to treasure. I’m on my seventh listen already, and the first few were spent simply gazing out into infinity as the music and the emotions washed over me. Great music will do that, and the only possible criticism I can level at this magical EP is that it’s too short. 10

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