I first heard Enemies on New Year’s Eve 2011, in the Roisín Dubh in Galway. I was there to see And So I Watch You From Afar, Ireland’s instrumental rock behemoth, a band I had wanted to see and missed on more occasions than I can count in the months previous. But in the end, while And So I Watch You From Afar put on a fantastic show, it was Enemies that really grabbed my attention, and I’ve been keeping tabs on them since.
In the last year and a half or so, I’ve seen them performing on roughly eight occasions, often supporting larger acts in Dublin that I could have seen performing much closer to home. It takes a seriously good band to motivate somebody to travel just to see them play a support slot, and to be honest, Enemies are the only band I’ve ever done this for.
The band recently released Embark, Embrace, their second full-length album, and it’s definitely a push in the right direction as far as I can see. The album features the bands first vocal performances, and although the vocals on the album are often performed by guest vocalists (from some fantastic Irish bands), Mark, the band’s bassist, and Eoin, one of their two guitarists (who also jumps on a second drum kit occasionally), perform the vocals live themselves, and they’re quite capable of doing it justice.
In particular, the vocal performances on Nighthawks (featuring Heathers) and North West (featuring Oisín Murphy of Croupier) are among the highlights of the album for me; both tracks seem to move towards a more subtle, emotionally driven atmosphere than many other Enemies songs (North West, in particular, feels almost like a Mogwai inspired post-rock track in places, as opposed to the usual math rock/pop inspired sound many have come to expect from the band), but they pull it off with ease. I recently saw the band perform in the Roisin Dubh to support the album’s release (the second of three gigs in the space of twenty days), and they brought Oisín Murphy on stage to perform North West with them; it was probably one of the best parts of that show, and considering that it was one of the best gigs I’ve been to in quite a while, that’s really saying something (Note: the best part of the show was either their performance of Rob Reid or Coral Castle, the latter of which Mark dedicated to me, ‘cause he knows it’s my favorite of their tracks and he’s cool like that. Always nice when a band acknowledges their fans).
Of course, the band hasn’t completely changed; a few of the tracks on Embark, Embrace are entirely (or, more often, largely) instrumental pieces, and most of the tracks on which vocals are present also feature some rather fantastic instrumental sections. In particular, Indian Summer (the album’s first single and to many, the band’s vocal debut) ends with a riff that has claimed a spot as one of my favorite parts of the new album.
Coral Castle and Beacher probably claim the top spots for me, though; over-all, they’re pretty fantastic tracks, but they really shine in their latter halves. Lewis, one of the guitarists, plays a single chord through his loop pedal for much of the track’s latter-sections, but something about that one chord and its relation to everything going on around it stands out as one of my favorite parts of the album. Coral Castle is, as I mentioned, my favorite of the new tracks (and probably my favorite of all the band’s tracks); I was waiting in the bar section of the Roisin Dubh for one of their shows earlier this year (just before their Euro Tour), and I heard them play it for their sound check. It didn’t take it long to win me over, and by the time the track had finished I was completely in love with it; from the gentle and melodic approach that dominates the first half or so of the track, to the wall of sound, fantastic drumming (Oisín may be one of the finest drummers I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in action) and chanting that comes after, it’s easily both my favorite track on the album, and one of my favorite tracks of the year.
Overall, Embark, Embrace was an album that was well worth waiting for (even if my pre-order arrived almost two weeks after everybody else’s and they all made fun of me), and it’s definitely a contender for my album of the year. It’s early in the year yet, but it would have to take something absolutely mind-blowing to infringe upon that claim, and if the fantastic releases I’ve already heard this year can’t do it, I’m not sure what will. So, I recommend you check out this album immediately. You can stream/buy it here.
If you really like it, you can buy it on CD or vinyl here.
Finally, check out the band’s Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr page so you’ll know when they’re playing a venue near you. As good as they are on record, they’re much better on stage, so I recommend you keep an eye out for ‘em.