Brown and Squire, Morrissey and Marr, Malkmus and Stairs – the annals of history are plagued by double acts who, after separations, have failed to produce anything like the majesty they created together. To a select few of us devoted fans the split between Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg, though it had been a long time coming, was akin to Jonny Greenwood vowing to quit Radiohead and exclusively work on film scores, or “The Edge” at last coming to his senses and giving Boneo the slapping he’s always deserved. This was to be a big year in the histories, and futures, of both Shearwater and Okkervil River, bands once shared by the two songwriters, but now exclusive commodities.It was with relief, then, that 2008 saw both bands release possibly their best albums yet. Shearwater gave us Rook, which, while not representing a massive step forward sonically from previous effort Palo Santo, at least signified a cutting loose of a tethered bird, a metaphor clumsily crafted to make tenuous reference to Meiburg’s avian obsession. The Snow Leopard EP collects together unused tracks from the Rook sessions, as well as various live and radio session versions.The title track here is a curious choice, ‘Snow Leopard’ being one of the more anodyne moments on Rook, a song which makes perfect sense in the context of the album, but just seems a little like a band going through the motions when played at the head of an EP. It’s followed by three new tracks, the first two of which fail at being in any way essential – would-be “b-sides” that, in the case of ‘So Bad’ play out for a teasing four and half minutes, threatening to explode with the menace we know Shearwater can and frequently do, before abruptly stopping, or, with ‘South Col’, represent a nice showcase for Meiburg’s voice and little more. ‘Henry Lee’ is a different proposition all together, for the first time on the EP showcasing Meiburg’s true talent, and being one of the few Shearwater songs of recent times to feature none of his band mates – tenderly picked acoustic guitar provides a backing for Meiburg’s ethereal, enchanting vocals and nursery-rhyme melody as he laments “a love far better than me.”The record then plays out with radio session re-workings of ‘Rooks’ and ‘I Was A Cloud’ – two of the highlights of Rook, both made to work wonderfully with the bare minimum – and a live recording of ‘Snow Leopard’. These closing three tracks manage to consummately sum up the EP – a real treat for fans and completists interested in hearing a different, quieter side of one of the finest records this year, but a poor introduction for any potential fans. The internet-only release and low price-tag suggest that the band too are well aware of this, so it’s hard to conclude the review with any kind of recommendation; if you’re a fan you’re probably already listening to it, and if not, you don’t care. I’m not even sure why I’m reviewing this. Tell you what: go and buy Rook instead.75%Shearwater on Myspace