The greats don’t settle. The best songs are seldom complete works, often abandoned at a certain point. New paths are forged by those willing to wander them, regardless of destination. Do Enemies write with endings in mind? Their layered soundscapes suggest not. Always reaching that little bit further, they bloom brightly, fighting against the inevitable fall of the curtain. Conclusions are important for obvious reasons, not least the power of a memorable full stop, but how we get there, the changes recorded along the way, should not be underplayed.
Embark, Embrace, one such storied journey, is perfectly named and wonderfully formed. Tempting as it may be to declare Enemies’ sophomore effort as something of a game-changer, such hyperbole would ultimately do the Wicklow faction a disservice. This is a record that introduces new elements, yes, but these are careful adjustments rather than wholesale changes. It’s not interested in overcoming some ‘difficult second album’ obstacle because it doesn’t imagine the obstacle in the first place. If debut release We’ve Been Talking was at times constrained by genre trappings, Embark, Embrace unpacks a band without ever sacrificing their love of and knack for incisive melody.
And So I Watch You from Afar recently reminded us that it is possible to introduce a vocal element to an instrumental outfit without spoiling the signature. Enemies follow suit with aplomb, their judgement sound, their execution precise and their placement perfect. Here, vocals act as a new set of muscles to be flexed, rarely the main focus; allowing musical interplay to take centre stage. Guest appearances from the likes of Cast of Cheers’ Conor Adams and Heathers bring with them a certain expectation, but Enemies seem to delight in dashing any pre-conceived notions we may have. It would have been easy to employ Adams’ rat-a-tat style, but ‘Executive Cut’ is busy enough, highlighted by the juxtaposition of crunching riffs and playful notation. We’ve Been Talking introduced musicians of obvious technical prowess, but Embark, Embrace is a significant step forward, one that looks before it leaps. Adams’ presence is strong yet subtle, exactly what it needs to be.
Heathers offer similar accompaniment. The sisters Macnamara have previous with this kind of experimental fare, but while the likes of Super Extra Bonus Party’s superb ‘Comets’ relied on their zest, the sprawling ‘Nighthawks’ casts them in the role of ghost chorus, their vocals used sparingly at critical intervals, still ethereal even when given a direct run against sharp individual guitar notes and rising percussion. Speaking of, ‘Indian Summer’ continues to provoke time signature debates nine months on, but it stands out as the most accessible and concise pop song Enemies have crafted thus far. The vocals are more commanding here, necessarily so, but still a texture, not the new way. Those looking for something a little more complex will likely be mesmerised by the ambitious strides of ‘Love Unlimited’ and ‘Coral Castle’, the latter a marvellous procession that shifts gears halfway through, unleashing hypnotic guitar swirls and melodic refrains to quite stunning effect.
In the space of just two albums, Enemies have learned important lessons and offered some of their own for consideration. They climb with confidence, no safety net in place, unafraid to fall.