Review Summary: 2012 has barely started, but Enter Shikari give us an early contender for Album of the Year with the innovative, unexpected, and downright fun Flash Flood of Colour.
Enter Shikari have never been a band to have an extremely large following here on Sputnikmusic - a fact I never managed to quite comprehend. From their early days as a post-hardcore band experimenting with synths, Enter Shikari have been on a continual upwards trend, musically and lyrically. We had 2007's rather immature Take to the Skies, an album which gained them huge attention among scene kids for the "clap clap" song, "Sorry, You're Not a Winner". The Brits released their sophomore effort, Common Dreads, in 2009, to the disapproval of the scene kids but the appraisal of everyone else. It was a huge improvement. Musicianship inproved on all levels, stupid lyrics about aliens were replaced by strong, politically-motivated lines, and for ***'s sake they stopped doing that awful inhale scream. Now, 2 and a half years later, we came to A Flash Flood of Colour; but is it all we had hoped for, progression-wise?
In truth, the answer's yes. A Flash Flood is all the parts of Common Dreads and Take to the Skies that worked, thrown in with a healthy dose of experimentation and some great musicianship. It gives us songs like the dubstep-heavy "System... ...Meltdown", "Gandhi Mate, Gandhi" and "Pack of Thieves"; we get the Take to the Skies-esque, post-hardcoreish "Arguing With Thermometers" and "Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrannicide"; we have softer, more acoustic cuts like "Search Party", "Stalemate" and The Streets-esque closer "Constellations". AFFOC's strengths lie in its diversity and the superior musicianship; it's weaknesses lie in Rou's vocals and occasional lack in songwriting ability.
We'll go through the strengths first. "Warm Smiles Do Not Make You Welcome Here" is quite easily Enter Shikari's best song, and the most memorable track on first listen. Beginning with an amazing, heartfelt verse delivered by Chris Batten, the bassist, it then heads into a roaring sing-along chorus, before transforming into a more post-hardcore feel for the bridge. It's a truly amazing. Over repeated listens, "Stalemate" is a standout too; a soft, acoustic guitar passage with great vocals by Rou leads us into a moving chorus of "Yes I've, gooooone to the hills again, yes I've, goooooone away...", before a truly unexpected piano passage closes the song. It's great to see how much diversity this band has, and how well they can pull it off.
As I mentioned above, the weaknesses. Most especially, Rou's vocals. He's hit a downhill. His clean vocals on Take to the Skies were good, but nothing to write home about, and the screaming was... eh. On Common Dreads, he improved drastically as a vocalist, almost obliterating the screaming and focusing on the cleans. Here, the screaming is back and annoying as ever, and his cleans have not improved - if anything, they've devolved slightly, to the point where they detract from the quality of certain songs, such as "System..." "...Meltdown" and "Pack of Thieves". It's a shame to see such a talented vocalist begin to slip.
But apart from the disrepancies in those three songs, AFFOC is pretty much picture perfect otherwise. ES's innovative use of electronics in their music continues to lead to interesting and unexpected results (see: "Gandhi Mate, Gandhi") but it is always used well. The band has enough unexpected moments of their own, though, like when the ballad-ish "Search Party" slips into some post-hardcore madness, or when "Pack of Thieves" goes from alternative-rock to dubstep in a flash. All the musicians except Rou are at the top of their game - Chris's basslines are sometimes lost amidst the music, but his beautiful vocals always stand out. Liam "Rory" Clewlow, on guitar, continues to express his abilities to shift gears in a flash, while also relishing in his re-upgraded position assisting Rou on screams ("Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrannicide"). Rob Rolfe is a rather unremarkable drummer, but he plays well enough to avoid criticism.
So let's conclude. AFFOC is not without flaws, but in truth it is a logical progression from Common Dreads and should satisfy any self-respecting music fan who is open-minded enough to appreciate its diversity (i.e., not the scene kids). Enter Shikari are a truly remarkable band - never sticking to one style of music, they shift, twist and turn at every opportunity. Their strong lyrics concerning politics give them a truly unique stance akin to that of hardcore rockers Rise Against; and their continued love for experimentation makes for a sometimes-bewildering, mostly interesting listen.