Swan Lake is drunk, and, from first track to last, “Enemy Mine” is an assault on the listener’s sobriety as well. Words are slurred, meaning lost, and if the listener’s fine with that, it’s a bright and pleasurable jolt. To boot, its sonic booze also coincides with the none-too-early thawing of yesteryear’s electro ice age: That was wintertime; this is spring.
Equal parts side project, collaboration and fire-and-brimstone, “Enemy Mine” earns its highest marks for high impact in the early track and style points for strong vocal performances throughout. On “Spanish Gold, 2044,” the record’s first track and second-best song, Spencer Krug invokes star-crossed lovers and slurs his speech so far behind the beat that he evokes the ghost of “Astral Weeks” to the imagining ear.
“Come be a wild thing, come run with Jackie” calls the return to the childhood on “Paper Lace,” whoever Jackie may be. But for all its reveling in a Bacchanalia of guitars, bass, and drums, “Enemy Mine” spews such reserves of natural energy that it would bring any less than the bravest of listeners to second-guess the second listen.
Without wasting a single drop of creative potential, Swan Lake has synthesized three similar but personal aesthetics into a monstrous and enchanting sound. The three Swans — Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade, Daniel Bejar of Destroyer and Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes — have made a qualified success of their second coming, a record tarnished only by an over-lush enthusiasm for itself.
Like on 2006’s “Beast Moans,” the band members’ idiosyncratic timbres and poetry meet agreeably on the tonal canvas. Krug is earnest and eccentric; Bejar is foppish and affected; Carey is only slightly distinguishable from Krug, which is fine. This multiplicity of voices results in a reckless and pleasurable swerving and surging of color. The group may be drunk, but it holds its liquor throughout.
Yet unlike in “Beast Moans,” the sounds are more masterpieces in pot smoke than jewels under glass. As expected, the thematic plundering is winsome, affected and weird. Castles, beast, Shakespeare and a girl named Jackie populate the lyrics in ways colorful and “indiescribable” [sic]. It’s hardly groundbreaking work, though.
Another problem is that their incessant sound is somewhat like being 20,000 leagues under the Mediterranean. That is, oceanic amounts of pressure. This proves more daunting than winsome. Some of the fastest tempos since punk broke the sound barrier appear on tape to topple the castle. Swan Lake summons a godly energy without the help of a church in Montreal or 20 orchestral minions. Indeed, Arcade Fire is an apt comparison: Swan Lake has the brawn; Arcade Fire has the nuance and the brains. This record won’t change many opinions in that contest, but it is a worthy contender.
Nevertheless, the wall of sounds grows daunting as the glory ride goes on even after our endorphins have dropped off. The penultimate track plays like an Alzheimer’s piano bar, and, frankly, we’re ready for it, after the preceding 28 minutes of fanged energy. When the engine picks up again for the last track and the band starts howling to the moon again, it’s much too much. The listener wants go to bed.
Is the solution, then, to listen to “Enemy Mine” enough times to build a fitness to match its own energy? The characters and voices are so specific that such would require a real dedication and love for the Canadian indie scene.