Enemies search for closure on ‘Valuables’
Mike Donovan | Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Goodbyes are difficult to execute. We want to depart on a pleasant note, but the somber reality of separation looms just beneath the surface. Reconciling hope and sadness in an effective closing statement requires sensitivity and care. When it comes to the endgame, every detail matters.
The Irish post-rock group Enemies built a reputation on their attention to detail. The group’s 2013 instrumental opus “Embark, Embrace” spun a riveting sonic story without wasting a note. The album was an exciting glimpse into Enemies’ wealth of untapped potential. It left fans desperate for more.
“Valuables,” the band’s third LP, answers to this call. The album, billed as the group’s closing statement, had high expectations to meet. Not only did “Valuables” have to follow up a masterpiece; it also had to offer closure to a sizable group of loyal fans. To accomplish these goals, Enemies added a new tool to their repertoire — lyrics. While their previous efforts only employed vocals instrumentally, “Valuables” sees the band dive into the realm of poetry.
Even so, the record’s lyrical efforts really just add a textural layer to the group’s sound. Guest singer Louise Gaffney’s nearly unintelligible mantras on the lead single “Glow” add a dreamy counterpoint to the wispy guitar and keyboard hooks swirling in the background, and the sad pleas and mellow chanting of the titular line on “Don’t Go” encapsulate the feeling of a farewell admirably. However, Enemies strap most of their lyrical passages securely in the back seat.
The record’s real high points come out in the mathematically precise arrangements and instrumentation. The interwoven guitars, intense low-frequency rhythms, and ephemeral vocal harmonies draw the listener into a vast soundscape. Each song balances tension and release to capture the delicate emotions of a band’s final months together.
The opening track “itsallwaves” splices two familiar motifs together. It opens with an American Football-style guitar line cast in a shimmering delay effect, shifts into a choppier, crunchier section, and ends with the original riff. Both motifs convey progress with varying degrees of tension, but the overall structure of the song is cyclic. Forward motion, the song seems to tell us, is somewhat illusory. At some point, we need to call it quits or we’ll keep going in circles.
The album’s second single “Leaves” evolves a single melodic motif over the track’s five-plus minute runtime. As the song progresses, so too does its intensity. By the end of the track, the instrumentation reaches its threshold. On the verge of explosion, the band suddenly dials back the intensity and lets the song fade away. The music tells a tale of growth, mounting pressure and a cathartic ending — yet another homage to Enemies’ final days.
“Valuables,” with its careful approach to musical storytelling and deeper lyrical elements, is a well-executed goodbye. It’s concise, emotionally complex, and digestible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to the enduring legacy of “Embark Embrace.” The lyrical and vocal efforts keep Enemies from flexing their instrumental muscles. If they still have some pizzazz left in the tank, it’s watered down by decent but ultimately forgettable lyrics.
That said, “Valuables” is by no means a disappointment. It’s a valiant effort from a band determined to finish their career on the uptick. The album isn’t about meeting expectations; it’s about escaping expectations entirely — like catharsis, but with something to look forward to after the crash.
Label: Top Shelf Records
Favorite Tracks: “itsallwaves,” Play Fire,” “Leaves”
If you like: American Football, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai