Swan Lake Enemy Mine

[Jagjaguwar; 2009]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: indie rock
Others: Destroyer, Frog Eyes, Sunset Rubdown

Let’s be honest: who considered Beast Moans a one-off, a quick, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am one-nighter for three weirdos hoping to guiltlessly indulge in, you know, being weird together? Characterizing the wake of its 2006 release was a considerable amount of brouhaha; fans gobbled up the Swan Lake material, and one wonders if this response was rooted more in the logic that Swan Lake as a long-term entity was unlikely. By all accounts, it seemed more of a joy ride, an excuse at least arguably legitimate and doubtlessly agreeable to ardent fans: beloved Canadian artists Dan Bejar, Spencer Krug, and Carey Mercer would just carouse a bit between their real projects and, heck, we would reap the results of a casual undertaking that at least roused a sense of intrigue when presented on paper. So this collaboration was really just a one-time guilty pleasure for all parties involved, right?

Funny, but we should have known better. Follow-up Enemy Mine has now sufficiently confounded our assumptions, declaring Swan Lake as much a staple of our forthcoming musical consumption as the many “main” projects that primed its origination. And for fans of the consistently aberrant quirkiness that has infused the collected past work of each member, Enemy Mine will certainly deliver.

Both individually and now the second time around as a trio, Bejar, Krug, and Mercer have reinforced their reputations for never having been the types to simply binge and purge. The mere prolificacy of each testifies to this commitment to deliberateness: Bejar with his Destroyer project, his part-time involvement with The New Pornographers, and his recent provision of been-around-the-block-a-few-times know-how to his girlfriend in Hello, Blue Roses; Mercer with Frog Eyes and his (not entirely indistinguishable) Blackout Beach solo project; Krug as a member of Wolf Parade, which is quickly attaining proportions of Band of Horses-like indie rock immensity in addition to his superintendence of Sunset Rubdown, a sideshow of colorful rumpuses about all things mystical. All said, the combined vastitude of this work is unparalleled and speaks of a serious approach on the parts of the artists to their craft.

But as far as justification for the existence of Swan Lake, are we any better for it? Surely any of the three artists in this supergroup (used here in the loosest sense of the term) would contend that such accommodation to the listener doesn’t play into the rationale. But given the relatively high-profile status each member has attained over the past few years, plus the fact that Enemy Mine is enjoying release via a label that, along with its affiliates (Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans), is continually augmenting its respectability with its general quality of output, asking whether or not we are any better for it seems a natural, if not fair, question.

Truth be told, in light of all of the recognition and acclaim that has been heaped upon the majority of each member’s independent work, attempting to form a worthwhile, uninhibited opinion is frustrating because of the sheer ambivalence that Enemy Mine inspires. This record doesn’t necessarily situate itself as the crestfallen recipient of an apathetic “Meh” but rather an empty “Hmm...”: an earnest attempt at contemplation with little subsequent results. Oddly, this has little to do with most of the individual tracks (a total of nine with credits split evenly amongst the three): Mercer’s “Spanish Gold, 2044” and Krug’s “A Hand at Dusk” are gems, and “Warlock Psychologist,” another doom-laden paroxysm by Mercer, will no doubt end up being one of the more memorable songs of 2009.

But then again, the songs -- or at least the idea of assembling the songs -- may indeed be the source of this irresolution. Granted, each contributes to the other’s tracks via background vocals and such, but each song could have easily appeared in their respective writer’s next solo album. “Settle on Your Skin” bears all of the jamboree qualities of the eccentric Sunset Rubdown aesthetic. Bejar’s “Heartswarm”, with his characteristically eddying voice with swells of guitar to match, sounds like it was written around the same time as “European Oils”.

Essentially, Enemy Mine is a showcase for the talent of the three artists involved. But it lacks the conviction of Frog Eyes. It lacks the focus of Sunset Rubdown. Were a more concentrated commingling evident, Swan Lake may have proved more successful in retaining the interest that the concept initially generated. But for the emotional depth that each member is capable of exuding, one would find greater fulfillment by revisiting Destroyer’s Rubies or The Golden River, as the problem with this record is that it ended up a bit less than the sum of its parts.

1. Spanish Gold, 2044
2. Paper Lace
3. Heartswarm
4. Settle On Your Skin
5. Ballad of a Swan Lake, or, Daniel’s Song
6. Peace
7. Spider
8. A Hand at Dusk
9. Warlock Psychologist

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