What a difference a year can make. Roommate began around the year 2000 when Kent Lambert's... well, roommate told him to put an album together of all the quaint electro-pop ditties he'd been working on. Kent promptly self-released the Celebs EP in 2001 under the rent-paying moniker, and the buzz started rolling. By the time Songs The Animals Taught Us saw DIY issue in 2005, he had allowed the project to swell into a full band, yet it seemed people were unsure of their roles. Improvisation and other free-flowing input appeared to be stifled. Even so, one year later, the premiere album would be re-released by the dependable Plug Research.
We Were Enchanted sees the Chicago collective taking a huge step forward and truly embracing their spirit. While Kent is still the principle songwriter, the whole album simply feels like a whole album, as made by likeminded people grooving on their own vibe. The debut obviously had its charms, enough that it caught the attention of a major-player indie label, but this work is richer and fuller across the board. Where once songs centered on old drum machines, cutesy synths, and Lambert's existential malaise, with the odd bit of banjo or guitar seemingly tacked on by obligation, We Were Enchanted is bursting with live drums and strings, with heavy presence of guitar and graceful touches of piano, Wurlitzer, bells, Buchla Music Box, bassoon, ukulele, and musical saw care of twenty-odd guest musicians, including members of Califone and Fruit Bats. Of course, there are still Kent's vocals and a ton of electronic sounds; they simply appear on an even plane here, fleshing out the compositions into fully-realized works instead of self-serving personal goals.
"New Steam" is practically a work of modern classical. It begins humbly enough with some plucked strings, bathtub bass, and bassoon, eventually launching into sweeping violin movements, a raunchy moog bass, and a light electric guitar riff. Overall, the track sounds like a Roommate cover of a lost track from Beck's Sea Change. "Tea Leaves" is equally remarkable. It kicks off with two minutes of glitchy, ambient 8-bit synth-cum-Logic electronica, then stops on a dime and twists into a piano-driven saloon rock-down, the likes of which would re-inspire Paul Williams. Glorious.
With hardly a chorus in sight, Kent's ongoing lyrical narrative, undeniable programming improvement (far fewer preset sounds), and eclectic, anything-goes studio attitude result in a solid work, improving over the debut in every way. They don't even belong on the same shelf as each other. If Songs The Animals Taught Us impressed you, We Were Enchanted will turn your head into a cloud of sparks and gold dust. You shouldn't put faith in fickle pixies, but you should trust your new Roommate.