Saturday, March 21, 2009

Review: Swan Lake - Enemy Mine (* * * *)

While Dan Boeckner has been off visiting Russia and making electro-pop music with his wife, fellow Wolf Parader Spencer Krug has once again teamed up with Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes) and Daniel Bejar (Destroyer, New Pornographers) to record another indie supergroup album under the name Swan Lake. The band's new record, entitled Enemy Mine, is the second effort from the prolific indie singer/songwriters, and features three tracks from each member in an over-the-top, uninhibited 39 minutes of bizarre, offbeat pop music. Though the writing credits are divided between the nine tracks, the album has a more cohesive feel than their debut, Beast Moans, an album which caused some division among critics and fans.

One thing Enemy Mine is certainly not, is subtle. Starting with Mercer's "Spanish Gold, 2044," a messy mix of fuzzy guitars, clanging piano, and Mercer's signature wail, the three musicians rely on complex arrangements and bombastic presentation throughout the album rather than nuance or atmosphere. Not surprisingly, Mercer is the most heavy-handed here, offering two additional dark, cranky tunes, the angry "Peace" and the epically weird closer "Warlock Psychologist." Bejar is a bit less dramatic in style, and even offers something of a love song in "Heartswarm," but his pointed lyrics keep it from being anything like easy listening, while the chorus of "Spider" sounds like a nightmare brought to life. Krug gives us the most relaxed tunes, the relatively sparse, pleasant "Paper Lace," and the delicate penultimate track "A Hand at Dusk," but almost makes up for it with the noisy"Settle On Your Skin." Still, his small amount of restraint goes a long way to rounding out Enemy Mine and making it more approachable than the band's debut.

The interplay between some of indie rock's biggest stars also keeps the record fascinating throughout. Plenty of vocal harmony and layers of guitars and keys keep the musicians connected and involved with each other, preventing what could have simply been a three-part album. Because each has a very distinctive vocal style, their harmonies can take some getting used to, like Mercer and Bejar's duet on the latter half of "Warlock Psychologist," or Krug and Mercer backing Bejar on the untamed "Battle of Swan Lake, Or, Daniel's Song," but elsewhere, they blend much more smoothly for some surprisingly cohesive moments. It's that kind of creative, avant-garde style you should be expecting if you're at all familiar with the artists' other projects, and the results on Enemy Mine are consistently strong.

Supergroups of any sort have a habit of underwhelming, but Swan Lake have produced an enjoyable record that actually nears the heights of what you would hope these three obviously talented individuals could provide together. With an increased collaborative feel that was often absent on their debut and a simultaneous expansion on the differences that make their music so wonderfully unique, the trio feel much more like a band this time around, and the music benefits immensely.


Loreless said...

Nice review of a great album.

I wasn't overly impressed with Beast Moans, although Rubella and Petersburg are fine pieces.

On this one, Peace and Warlock Psychologist are epic, whilst Settle on your skin at times flirts with musical genius.