Spanish Gold, 2044
Settle on Your Skin
Ballad of a Swan Lake, or, Daniel's Song
A Hand at Dusk
Beast Moans - Swan Lake (2006)
There are certainly glimmering moments on indie supergroup Swan Lake’s sophomore release, but not enough to carry a whole album. This time, at least.
At some point in the early noughties, three of Canada's leading indie lads decided to join forces. Under the name Swan Lake, Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown), Daniel Bejar (Destroyer, New Pornographers) and Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes, Blackout Beach) fused their musical backgrounds and released the result as Beast Moans in 2006. It was an ambitious debut, sounding of three strong-minded musicians brimming over with ideas and wanting to use them all at once. In comparison, Swan Lake's sophomore album Enemy Line is a more stripped down affair. The trio seem to have gotten over the initial excitement of their band's mere existence and in a calmer way focused on giving each other more space to unfold.
Compared to the experimental and eccentric Beast Moans, Enemy Line sounds more pop. There's a greater degree of structure, tracks are easier to absorb, but the unpredictability which makes melodic journeys hard to foresee is still present, adding a nice element of suspense. Epic tendencies as a result of instrumental layering and echo effects are reminiscent of fellow Canadians Arcade Fire, only Swan Lake sounds cruder, quirkier. Yet, Enemy Line is inconsistent, with a loose grip around the very good moments.
The tracks led by Mercer's intense vocals are the indisputable highlights. Spanish Gold, 2044 is a strong opening – a slow tune made deliciously chewy by the heavy drums that limp along, sometimes nanoseconds off beat, with echoed guitars and Mercer wringing with a broken voice on top. Peace follows up in similar style, with thumping drums, fuzz bass and guitars wailing in the back, bringing up fond memories of New York indie-boys Interpol. However, moving into singer-songwriter territory with Bejar in the lead is less exciting. Heartswarm has a nice Flaming Lips tinge to it, but rolls aimlessly along, lacking Coyne and Co's musical shrewdness. Ballad of Swan Lake, Or, Daniel's Song is an anonymous offering with a non-progressive melody, which elevates only slightly when Mercer offers vocal assistance. In-between the poles of good and not-so-very-good, Swan Lake dish up simple tunes with progression and variation that are nice, but hardly unmissable.
Where Beast Moans sounded like a sketch, a brainstorm, slightly busy and unfocused, ideas have been tidied up on Enemy Line. But if before the trio was slightly overcrowding each other, they've perhaps given each other too much space this time. The album sounds slightly disparate, and although a step forward, it indicates that the completed product where it all comes together has yet to come.
And based on what Krug, Bejar and Mercer have hitherto delivered, it shall be interesting to see if they and audiences alike will be third time lucky.