Thursday, March 19, 2009

Swan Lake - Enemy Mine

Swan Lake
Enemy Mine
(03.2009, Jagjaguwar)
RIYL = Canadian indie rock

Why is it that Canada is so successful at breeding smart, insanely talented indie rock geniuses? Not only that, but all their indie rock stars are like best buds and have no qualms about combining their powers for purposes of world domination. Well, as of now, consider me dominated. Swan Lake feels like my very own quintessential indie rock super group. When I first overheard the little birds outside my bedroom window chirping on about this accumulation of mass talent I could barely contain myself. Just to kind of pinch ourselves, we’d better get to the obligatory name checking and auxiliary band correlations: Exhibit A - Daniel Bejar, AKA the engine of hyper-literary classic/indie rock contortionist Destroyer, AKA my favourite component of the illustrious New Pornographers, AKA the token frog-voiced (not frog-eyed) Jew with circular meta lyricism to infinity. Dan, are you really Jewish? Exhibit B – Spencer Krug, AKA one half (in my opinion, the much better half) of indie rock stalwarts Wolf Parade, AKA instigator of the wondrous and artful solo guise of Sunset Rubdown, AKA my openly admitted indie rock boy crush; is there any song on which Krug doesn’t slay? Exhibit C – Carey Mercer, AKA the torch bearer of the enigmatic I’ve-heard-of-them-but-never-heard-them--well-you-really-really-should-hear-them Frog Eyes, AKA “I’ve already struck gold in 2009 with my 2nd Blackout Beach solo album”, AKA the legitimate illegitimate godfather of Spencer Krug and Daniel Bejar. Now, back to 2006: so, I hear those first little tweets of the emergence of Swan Lake and proceed to faint in fan-boy star overload. After coming to, Beast Moans, the group's debut, turned out to be as frustrating as it was enjoyable; a wondrous conundrum that has me simply itching for more. Not a false start, but a curve ball born of, perhaps, not knowing how to control so much indie rock muscle: a testing ground. I was deterred. No, I was intrigued and satisfied. Subsequently, I was hit with Destroyer’s Rubies (a little late, mind you), Sunset Rubdown’s Random Spirit Lover (my #1 of 2007) and Frog Eye’s Tears of the Valedictorian (holla!). Whew. Once the new Swan Lake was announced, my expectations had jumped up a notch. Well, three notches, at least. And here it is: Enemy Mine is the first legitimate contender for the title Merriweather Post Pavilion is itching for. On the sophomore release from these seasoned indie rock graduates things have become a bit more democratic and, as is noted on the band's page at Jagjaguwar, more structured. The nine songs have been divided evenly between the group, each heading off three songs with a good deal of visible help from their band mates on choruses, back up vocals and climaxes (and oh, the climaxes). First things second, every song is a minor masterpiece; however, it is impossible amongst the three to not recognize Carey Mercer’s emergence as the powerhouse of the trio (well, a powerhouse amongst powerhouses (I still love you Spencer…)). Mercer’s tracks bookend Enemy Mine concisely and the addition of his baritone theatrics to any track on the album is inevitably the highlight. Even when Spencer Krug goes for the jugular on the absolutely amazing ballad, “A Hand At Dusk,” it is Mercer’s eerie vocal interruption at the apex that really sends the song over the top in terms of amazing. Mercer similarly steals the spotlight in the climax of Bejar’s, “Ballad of Swan Lake, Or, Daniel’s Song.” That is not to say that Krug and Bejar don’t hold their own. They most certainly do. Krug and Bejar play at the very peak of their talent, devoting everything to Swan Lake as if it was their most important creative outlet. Enemy Mine has bewitched me. Jagjaguwar referenced the Krug lyric, “There’s architecture here,” but I think it is just as important to mold the context of the subsequent line of that same song, “and there are mountain peaks.” The songs are not only built with a mind for structure, but also with a heart and ear for aural peaks. In fact, each tracks plays out like a little mini-drama with the most contagious climactic avalanches about 3/4ths to 4/4ths the way in. I think it is pretty safe to say that these guys are rockin’ it with their A-game on this one. I have undoubtedly listened to this thing at least 10 times more than Animal Collective this year and I’ve listened to Animal Collective at least 10 times more than anything else, so it’s an exponential addiction to be sure…and it never gets old. These songs are strong. Enemy Mine is astounding. Good work Canada, you never fail to brighten my musical horizons.

-Lil' Thistle

Swan Lake - "A Hand At Dusk"

1 comment:

G'PA J said...

Sounds like one of my old David Bowie albums. I give it a 3 out of 10. Also - CUSS WORDS - DO NOT PLAY THIS when Atlas is listening. I'll burn some Handel or Haydn for you, so the little dude will grow up wiser than his old man. "Peace" almost sounds like some early Floyd, at least it shows me that these goofy groups you listen to were inspired by the classic rock that I grew up on.