There’s something amazing about handing in a resignation letter with two weeks notice. Suddenly, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and the awful job doesn’t seem quite so awful. Things get easier with difficult coworkers, you feel more relaxed, and you might even take greater pride in finishing your final tasks. Enemies felt a similar change once they decided that Valuables, their third full-length studio album, would be their last. After a tough tour, clashing over the album, and difficulties in their personal lives, the band decided to call it quits – but only after finishing what they had started. Much like the relief of resigning from a job, deciding to split up released a lot of the pressure on the group and allowed them to focus on this final album. The band described all of this in a candid press release that really makes you feel for the band (and all artists writing for others, the “destructive affair” described in the release.)
Before reading the press release, I thought the album had a chill mood to it. It seems a little more relaxed than some of the math rock they previously put out (though it’s still full of intricate guitar hooks that will get stuck in your head.) Knowing the backstory, that “chill” could be the bittersweet relaxed feeling that came after their decision. There is an ebb and flow to many of the songs; coupled with the faraway vocals, the watery sound of the guitar on many tracks, the shimmery percussion, the fluid transition between tracks, and the title of the opening track (“Itsallwaves,”) I couldn’t help but imagine water throughout the album. It could be a gentle waves crashing on the perky “Itsallwaves” or a roiling, stormy sea on the darker “Leaves.” “For Karla” is so relaxed it sounds like it’s from an island. It’s like a more refined, intelligent 311.
Though the recording process began before the band’s last tour and their break-up decision, many of the songs were scrapped or reworked after the tour. “Play Fire” is one song that was definitely from before the break-up: it was released as a single over a year ago. It is the band’s take on pop (their description, it still has a lot of post rock and math rock elements to it.) It sounds like watered-down cross between Bastille and Coheed and Cambria thanks to layered vocals and the intricate guitar work but all with a soft touch and relaxed feeling. Even though “Play Fire” was released long before the rest of the album, the songs stay cohesive enough that you really can’t tell which ones were recorded before the tour and which ones came after. One has to wonder whether the album was named before or after the decision – did the album become more valuable after the decision?
The band doesn’t need vocals to tell a story, as evidenced by a couple of songs without any lyrics that harken to past albums. Previously, Enemies released math rock without vocals, but they have now proven that they can create beautiful songs with or without vocals. A stand out on the album is vocal-less “Houran,” which has frantic-yet-controlled, imposing guitar on choruses that switches out with more chill verses that build the tension back up for approaching the chorus. “Bonopi” gets more computerized, featuring a perky loop under slow, reverb-heavy guitar. For a band that hasn’t used vocals much, they have done well with them on Valuables. “Itsallwaves” and “Play Fire” incorporate layers of vocals that act as an additional instrument. Guest singer Louise Gaffney provides ethereal vocals on “Glow” over shimmery cymbals and computerized sounds that make for a dreamy song. Computer-y vocals are looped on “Don’t Go” and “Leaves,” making each song sound a little bit extraterrestrial. Even without listening the the lyrics, the vocals are used as an additional instrument and the songs convey feelings more strongly than the actual words do.
This is a bittersweet album for many reasons, but the band ended on a high note. The members of Enemies are very talented, so hopefully this isn’t the end of their individual music careers even if their time together is done.