Review Summary: Slint, I don't miss you quite as much now.
Slint used spoken vocals successfully. It’s a bit surprising more bands haven’t followed in their footsteps – let’s face it, Spiderland would be a bit boring without its vocals, inconspicuous as they are, and yet many bands seem to think they can make far less interesting music and somehow increase its interest by completely excluding the human voice. If your music doesn’t say much, even to your desired audience, you should probably throw some words in there.
Enablers doesn’t quite follow in Slint’s footsteps. Enablers observes silently, then gently brushes Slint to the side and takes over with superb drumming and otherworldly guitar work. And while Slint’s lyrics were at times blatantly unpoetic, Enablers bring stories and images that would actually not appear horrendously tedious or absurdly esoteric when read on the page (a true feat for 21st century lyrics). Thankfully though, this is not what would generally be associated with the term “spoken word.” The speaker does not yell every word in that strange, manipulated voice that so many spoken word artists seem to use. He mainly speaks with sober expression, occasionally allowing his voice to rise (which can be quite frightening), but only when fitting. Consequently, the words and the music are simultaneously in focus.
I am hesitant to write about the lyrics. They are strange, often quite bleak, even genuinely disturbing. Yet I cannot help but be astounded at how well they fit with the music. It’s as if the music and the words are both somehow painting different parts of a single picture. The best example of this is the final song, “A Poem for Heroes.” The words, a palindrome poem, describe an old veteran drinking at a bar. The music is gorgeous, guitars and bass meandering, warm yet mournful. They combine to create a single frozen image of beauty and sadness, an image which stays with me long after the music fades.
There is something amazingly mature about this album. Something that makes me think it is performed by seasoned jazz musicians who heard some 90s indie rock and decided to try their hands at it, then realized that they were actually pretty good and decided to polish their style. I regard this album as a work of art. Musically, it may not expand too far beyond jazzy post-rock, but a unique sound is attained through its dissonant approach. But what stands out the most is the unified vision of lyrics and music, the likes of which I have heard nowhere else in popular music. It makes me realize how accustomed I have grown to lyrics just being a necessary evil in music. Of course, I will have to remain accustomed to this circumstance. As long as it is called music, it will be performed by musicians, not writers. But albums like this show that there are some who recognize the potential of vocals in music and understand how to achieve it.