Valuables by EnemiesRelease date: December 9, 2016
Label: Topshelf Records
It’s a curious role to take on, that of the listener to an album created cathartically. Bearing witness to the sound of those hearts and souls poured into a lengthy and tumultuous project being found and repaired is a unique experience. You’re all too aware that you needn’t be there, that the sounds would go on and the healing would be complete without you. Such is the case with Valuables – the third and final album release from Irish math-rocksters Enemies – the result of 11 turbulent months of work during which the band was melted and re-cast by their own hands.
Knowing this, you’d expect the album to be a more jaded, jagged affair; with avant-garde stabs to the ear personifying the undercurrent of personal and professional heartbreaks the band experienced during its creation. Really, nothing could be further than the truth. This is quite possibly Enemies’ most placid release to date; the sense of lilting tranquility running throughout more indicative of a sort of final Valhalla reached by the band, where the music, in their own words, has “nothing to prove, no one to impress”.
The main component to this newfound serenity lies in the vocals, so intermittent and indistinct in past releases now stepping to the forefront through Mark O’Brien, the band’s bassist and airy, synthesised main vocalist. ‘Play Fire’ was the first track to showcase the new format about a year and a half ago, featuring all the classic Enemies ingredients of layered guitar and bass riffs over a bouncing drumbeat, but with the addition of some well-measured vocals that do nothing to steal the limelight away from what has predominantly been an instrumental band. This is not vocal and accompaniment, everything is equal here.
It is actually Enemies’ first foray into a noticeable verse-chorus structure, and it is an incredible testament to the band that this doesn’t represent a step back or a dip in originality, but instead a complete ownership of the most universal of song layouts. Its position in Valuables in between two instrumentals helps to highlight the difference between Enemies then and now. The preceding track, ‘Houran’ is the polar opposite and wouldn’t sound out of place on the band’s first ever EP, Alpha Waves. Slowly swirling guitars and a languid beat alternate between powerful, riff-driven progressions with the kind of distorted groans familiar to long-term Enemies fans.
On the other side of ‘Play Fire’ lies the distant and dreamy electronic loops of ‘Bonopi’, which segues nicely into ‘Leaves’ and its floating, lullaby-like guitar interplay. This is another track with a heavy focus on the vocals, but it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t work as well without them. The guitars forge their own paths throughout and seem to be in a perennial battle with the vocals; often climbing above and falling below until a peaceful amnesty is reached.
‘Leaves’ and ‘Play Fire’ were introduced as singles either side the release of ‘itsallwaves’, the band’s second single release from Valuables and one that should have placated any potential fan with a grievance that Enemies had taken a step towards the mainstream with ‘Play Fire’. O’Brien’s main vocals and the band’s backing vocals again take centre stage but play no higher role than the intelligent guitar loops from Lewis Jackson and Eoin Whitfield, that ride the same waves as the vocals and compliment them with a quintessential Enemies sound.
Acting as the introductory track to the album, ‘itsallwaves’ sets a high level of intensity that isn’t really followed up on within the other 8 tracks. Not that this matters, as Enemies have always been apt at conveying a range of intensities that make them hard to categorise. The following track ‘For Karla’ is a great example of this, as the entirety of its high intensity segment lasts eight bars, with the constant flux of its gently popping and incredibly catchy main body providing the album’s absolute zenith.
The swirling and shimmering ‘Glow’ will remind a lot of fans of ‘Nighthawks’ in 2013’s Embark, Embrace. The angelic voice provided by Louise Gaffney and the tropical, sparkling guitars work perfectly well together but the track doesn’t have the same sense of progression that the others do and seems a bit stagnant in comparison. Its thoroughly tranquil nature sits more with the tracks at the tail end of the album, the first of which, ‘Don’t Go’ is packed with emotion and is bizarrely evocative of one of those heart-breaking Blink-182 songs they made toward their eventual demise. Obvious links can be drawn with Enemies’ current endgame and it’s easy to imagine a tearful reaction should they decide to give this track a run out at their final gig in Dublin on December 18th.
Rather fittingly, ‘Phoenix Nights’ starts as slow and deliberate as a funeral procession and loses its way in the middle before plodding on with gritty determination, through powerfully layered instrumentation and licks of dauntless virtuosity. A microcosm of the process involved in getting this final album out there, perhaps, and the strength and willpower needed to see it done. Valuables truly is a consolidation of everything the band needed consolidating. It’s an incredible record, and one that Enemies should be proud to call their last.