Swan Lake - Enemy Mine (Jagjaguwar)
09 Apr 2009
"the songwriting is still incredibly peculiar, and requires a lot of coming back to - but that's what's so rewarding. you didn't like beer the first time you drank it either did you? and wouldn't you love a beer right now..?"; release - '09
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All it took was a little focus. Miraculously, Swan Lake have on Enemy Mine transformed in to more than the sum of their parts. This record makes Wolf Parade seem frivolous, Destroyer seem over cooked, Frog Eyes somehow lonely. The men in this band (Dan Bejar, Spencer Krug, Carey Mercer) make up those bands, which used to be the only reason why people cared about Swan Lake. Now, you can justifiably give a sh*t because of the music that's been made, not just because of who made it.
The feeling of increased intent and focus is evident from the bass heavy opener, 'Spanish Gold 2044', Carey Mercer's propulsive growl far removed from the dense hush that filled their laudable-yet-flawed debut Beast Moans. Though it's instantly recognisable whose song is whose just from the vocals, Swan Lake have with time become more of a group concern, perfecting the skill of learning when to not stick their oar in - one of the most important and underrated collaborative tools. They've learnt to let each other's songs breathe better, in essence - Krug's 'Paper Lace' is the kind of thing that would have been covered in Bejar's wails and Mercer's penchant for massive reverb on the last record, but here, it fills its lungs with fresh air, and lets out a thing of beauty upon exhalation.
The songwriting is still incredibly peculiar, and requires a lot of coming back to - but that's what's so rewarding. You didn't like beer the first time you drank it either did you? And wouldn't you love a beer right now? Even when an individual member isn't making particularly great use of the fact that he has the rest of the band with him, it results in great songs. 'Settle On Your Skin' is indistinguishable from a Sunset Rubdown track (another of Krug's bands), and though the title of it suggests a unity under this new title, 'Ballad of Swank Lake, or, Daniel's Song' is far more Daniel's song than it is the definitive Swan Lake piece - it's like hearing a Destroyer track with Mercer and Krug on backing vocals.
However, things like 'Peace' are way, way too weird for Frog Eyes, making me think that Mercer probably makes the best use of the fact that people's minds are much more open to him f**king with them than here they would be on a record made by another of these guys' bands. Yet I think Dan Bejar might be my favourite. Maybe it's just his amazing way of swearing. The otherwise luscious 'Heartswarm' alone contains the lines "do my eyes deceive me, or is it truly springtime in Paris for that piece of sh*t?" and "you had your boots on, you looked f*cking brutal", not much on paper admittedly, but when set to the most delicious yet subtle of moody accompaniments and delivered in a voice that has me convinced the man must look like Salvador Dali, there's nothing but celebrating to be done over its brilliance.
Yeah, Dan's tracks are the best. 'Spider' confirms it (free download here, if you need proof). He thinks about melody in a way that's just completely weird, and thrives when he's allowed to dictate where it goes - often, he doesn't know where it's going. You get the impression he follows it as much as it follows him. He's the weirdest one here. The others play up to him. Often astoundingly.
It does feel like music for grownups. But if you're not a grownup, or can't let go of the idea of being a kid (I'm 24 - where's my mum?), it's encouraging to hear that growing up can actually be a fascinating, fun filled experience. It also ends just in the right place - precisely at the moment that you're thinking "WOW, this is heavy" rather than "Christ, this is a bit much..."
Once Wolf Parade was the focus, Sunset Rubdown the side project, there was a band called The New Pornographers who had a dude in with this little thing he did called Destroyer... now, the lines are completely blurred. Any one of those bands could have ruled the world, and still might, if their respective members decide that's what they want. This shows what they're capable of if they put their minds to it. Yet, after Enemy Mine, there's a strong argument for the case that they should drop everything, and just be Swan Lake for a bit.