Long ago, in days of yore, when I was growing up around the fringes of the Irish music scene, everything seemed rather small and restrictive. There was room for only one “sound” at a time, and “new” was a four-lettered word. “Country And Irish” was a continuous plague, Thin Lizzy was over, U2 were ubiquitous, The Cranberries hadn’t happened yet, and Rory Gallagher played blues so he obviously didn’t count.
Any burgeoning creative types seemed to be faced with a stark set of options; sound like the current Big Thing (invariably selected and canonised by the All-Powerful Dave Fanning), sound like something English or American so no-one would take you seriously, or emigrate!
Possibly a function of the emergence of an entirely more confident identity and character for Ireland as a whole during the nineties and noughties, all that seems to have changed for the better. Throughout Ireland, there has been for at least a decade and a half a creative buzziness that’s most refreshing to see and hear (albeit from the self-imposed distance for this reviewer who chose the Emigration option).
Among the more interesting and challenging of the emerging creative strands has been Enemies, gigging since 2008 and recording since 2010. Committed largely to an instrumental approach (how many of us can relate to the struggle to find a singer (a) who can afford a PA and doesn’t think that all he needs to show up with is a cheap Radio Shack mic, and (b) who can sing?), Enemies’ sound has explored as many of the corners of the rock-pop warehouse as possible, but has consistently avoided settling for simple compositional clichés, like verse-chorus structures, or arrangements that have rhythm sections supporting hummable melodies.
Their latest, and given that the band actually broke up during the recording stages, final album, “Valuables”, continues to embrace and to develop the same themes as on previous recordings, but this time including vocals on many tracks. Not vocals as most of us might expect – you know, lead singing, front-man sort of stuff – but layering vocals into the tracks more as additional rhythm and texture, sometimes barely audibly.
Instead, the drive seems always to be about creating endlessly challenging rhythms and punchy, hooky guitar lines, with tracks based on linear development, hardly ever repeating or revisiting earlier passages. Some tracks seems to expand and almost to overflow in a musical stream-of-consciousness without the listener being consciously aware of the development. Trés 60s!
The band has toured extensively, and have been delivering their music to live audiences throughout, but I do wonder how they intend their average audience to engage with them. Are we to stand still, appreciating but not interfering? Are we to attempt to sing along, if we can figure out what melody to settle upon? Are we even to risk tapping our feet along with the music for fear that we’ll look a bit foolish the next time the rhythm changes suddenly and leaves us lagging behind? All good questions, but I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the way of answers. But I can suggest that you’ll have a great deal of fun trying to figure it out!
The complexity of the rhythmic structures around which the music revolves and explores doesn’t feel in any way pretentious or constructed deliberately to confound the audience, and being a life-long Prog Rock fan, the whole effect works really well for me. By a couple of tracks in, I was content that the lack of simplicity wasn’t going to be any kind of problem at all!
But “Valuables” is no simple Prog tribute, not by any means. It’s driving pop-rock (or rock-pop, whichever your personal priority prefers) of a very high standard, blended in a sophisticated manner with a variety of other influences. My Irish emigrant ears reckon that the rhythmic complexity owes as much to Irish Trad as it does to King Crimson, and the production treatment of vocals throughout seems to cast sideways glances at Enya and Alan Parsons as much as anything else.
So there we have it – Experimental Psychedelia meets The Cranberries meets The Alan Parsons Project. We’re a long, long way from the days when if you weren’t a U2 tribute you went hungry. And a bloody good thing too!!
Released December 9th 2016 via Topshelf Records