Review Summary: A parting gift of endless replayability.
As a critic and a consumer, the news of Valuables
' impending arrival was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it would be a new offering from mathy Irish post-rock darlings Enemies. A curse in that it would be their last as a group.
As a critic and a consumer, the news of their impending breakup is tough to take. Previous outing Embark, Embrace
, is perhaps one of my favorite albums of all time. It's a record that delicately balances dark and light sounds along grooves that manage to both feel natural and sound impressive - both in technicality and effect. Its chants were infectious; its themes were masterfully cyclical. The group's incorporation of shimmering, mallet-based percussion among tremolo driven post-rock structures just made the album even better.
As a critic and a consumer, it's hard to give that up.
But as a person who has read of the conflict behind the scenes and the struggle to unify behind one artistic vision and complete a record, you have to wonder if maybe it's okay to let go. Maybe it's better to let go than to risk the frienships. Maybe it's better to let go than to risk becoming something ugly and dysfunctional. Maybe it's better to let go now and to leave a shining legacy. And if, as a result, we consumers must let go, at least Enemies have given us something we can put on repeat for years to come.
Following one of its predecessors' apparent mantras, Valuables
is an excessively good option for your preferred media client's repeat functionality, riding along the same effortless breeze of tremolo, groovy math, and plenty of bass where beginning flows casually to end and end flows casually to beginning. Though the ethereal chanting found on the previous record has evolved into more fully-fleged, airy singing in parts ("Glow") and that shimmering malleted percussion has given way to hazy electronics that never quite come to a full drone (except, perhaps, on "Don't Go"), the same spirit of spritely, rhythmically-driven post-rock that was embodied in Embark, Embrace
. It's just a little longer in the tooth and slower in step at times.
While one need look no further than the upbeat refrain of "Houran" or the playful warblings and introductory a cappella chanting of "Play Fire" for evidence of the band's signature swagger, there's an uneasy tension to tracks like "Leaves" (which would easily fit in on the darker side of Embark, Embrace
a la "Nighthawks"), the densely electronic "Don't Go," and "Phoenix Lights" that paints a darker cloud over the band's bright horizons. For better or worse, the album becomes like watching a weather system starting with the bright skies of "Itsallwaves" and developing into the dark and thunderous clouds of its final tracks. All only to rain and once again reveal the sun at the beginning of the album.
While its brighter moments are generally its better moments from my vantage, it's hard to deny the value and purpose of the storm in such a cycle. And for a band releasing their final album, developing such beautiful replayability is one of the sweetest parting gifts to us critics and consumers. Though Enemies have chosen the valuable things in life instead of forcing themselves to appease us, they've found a sort of compromise in releasing an album that will keep us sated for ages, while they can go about taking the steps necessary to ensure their own personal harmonies. While I'm plenty disappointed that there won't be another Enemies album on the horizon anytime soon, I feel that there's something valuable in passing through the moments and movements before "Itsallwaves" kicks off again.