Enemies – Embark, Embrace
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Record Label: Heavyweight Records
As the years continue to move on by, it’s seemingly inevitable that a band’s sound will change, sometimes drastically, and sometimes slightly. I’d certainly be willing to bet that almost anyone can remember at least one time when their favorite band added what seemed like a sacrilege fifth member to a new album, or when musicians started incorporating (for better or for worse) modern electronic elements to newer songs just to change things up a bit. It’s really anyone’s guess as to whether or not these “additions” will be welcomed by longtime fans, but, at the very least, I know we can all agree: it’s a huge risk to add new elements to an established sound.
On Embark, Embrace, Ireland’s resident post-rock/mathcore experts, Enemies, took one of these huge risks by adding a vocal element to their already exceedingly diverse instrumentation. This, to me, seemed like a strange choice given that the band’s previous full-length release, the completely instrumental (and wonderful) We’ve Been Talking, certainly didn’t ever feel like it was lacking by not having vocals. But for whatever reason, Enemies somehow felt compelled to further expand their sound on Embark, Embrace by employing bassist Mark O’Brien and Guitarist Eoin Whitfield as the new singers.
The first full track, “Executive Cut,” gives the listener an immediate introduction to Enemies’ new vocal element as the singers shout “Embark, Embrace, I swim, I sail” overtop the band’s signature melodic, bouncy guitar lines. The lines are simple and direct, and there is little room for misinterpretation. Oddly enough, in the case of Enemies, this is actually quite effective to keep the song meanings so manageable and accessible, because now, the listeners have the ability to pair a clear, concise thought with the band’s often notoriously ambiguous song titles. We’ve Been Talking tracks like “Backpacks and Cardigans” and “Creamist” were by no means bad songs, but without any lyrical context, any potential meaning gleaned from the strange titles was immediately lost. But now, all of a sudden, audiences can actually connect stories and situations to Enemies’ songs, greatly enhancing the listening experience.
“Indian Summer,” one of the album’s best tracks and the lead single, becomes so much more than it ever would have been simply because the line “I’ll run away with you” is lightly sung over the verses. Album finale, “Northwest,” brings Embark, Embrace full circle as the vocalist quietly reasserts his need to get out, first established in “Executive Cut.” The record closes as the somber words “If I could, I wouldn’t stay” echo out over the last, lonely guitar chords. James Eager, who recorded and mixed the album, did a fantastic job leveling the vocals in such a way where they are loud enough to be heard, but don’t outshine the band’s true craft: the music.
Musically, Enemies are at the top of the game on Embark, Embrace, and absolutely fantastic, diverse instrumentation can be heard throughout the entire record. “Beacher” has the bass and drums thumping along in a strange 4/4 and 3/4 time signature hybrid, sounding like a perfectly fitting update to the We’ve Been Talking kind of sound, and the conclusion of “Coral Castle” offers both catchy and impressive guitar harmonies. “Love Unlimited” finds Enemies at their most energetic, while “Unit Shifter” is a much more subdued, moody offering. There are guest spots galore, like the vocals on “Nighthawks,” and some saxophone and glockenspiel even show up from time to time.
There is literally something for everyone on this record, and it functions both as a perfect album for background music and also as a set of songs that will continuously surprise and impress you if given the proper attention. Enemies have embarked on a new adventure with their music, and I urge to come along for the ride. It isn’t often that big risks can be met with such embrace.