Swan Lake

Enemy Mine

(Jagjaguwar; 2009)

By Chet Betz | 24 March 2009

While on this their supergroup’s second record these three songwriters—Carey Mercer, Spencer Krug, and Dan Bejar—do show up on each other’s songs (usually most discernible in them singing BGVs for each other), Enemy Mine is for Swan Lake primarily a progression of disentanglement. Far from the recombinant dissolution of Beast Moans (2006), here we have clear delineations and a lot less of the “fucking lots of reverb.” Enemy Mine allows these three Canadian crazies to do their own individual things much more than doing each other’s things: it allows Mercer to continue peddling his terrorism under yet another moniker; it allows Krug to once again show his inspiration due Mercer while flashing a tiny facet from his gem of an oeuvre, very much in Sunset Rubdown mode; it allows Bejar to suck. This kind of freedom’s sort of self-defeating for artists supposedly working as a group, especially when two of those artists have to work with what may or may not be a holy fool.

I’m thankful that this record’s bookends are two unrighteous slabs of Carey Mercer awesomeness. “Spanish Gold, 2044” is a stomping entrance of drums and sludgy bass and trebly grace notes, Mercer letting us know that he left the “bullwhip by the nightstand” even as his command over the track’s feral bite cracks resoundingly; “Warlock Psychologist” is tethered chaos, a crime “dictionaries can not define,” that crescendos and then settles in its final half minute with clenched resolve upon the 4/4 of an emergent snare. And while Enemy Mine doesn’t contain anything like Krug’s best work, I’m thankful for his gracious piano parts meeting with an electric guitar counter in the final minute of “Settle on your Skin” even as he regurgitates his lyrical conceit of narrator/muse being objects (“I am the ice / And I am the volcano / Que sera? Que sera? / I am the bow and I am the arrow”); I’m thankful for the catchiness of “o sanctuary!” being repeated near the end of his thankfully jaunty “Paper Lace”; I’m thankful that “A Hand at Dusk” is basically a new “Us Ones in Between” at the same time and in the same way that I’m thankful that Spencer acknowledges at song’s end that “it’s getting old, I know, I know.” That’s a fair shake more self-aware than Bejar. I feel like though Mercer deigns to howl at the end of “Battle of a Swan Lake” he must’ve been the one who decided to tag the title with “or, Daniel’s Song” as a way of saying, “yeah, this song doesn’t really go anywhere.”

There seems to be a conflict central to the record’s themes, what with the title and the cover and the names of some of the songs, and while I’ll admit I’m not sure what that conflict’s actually supposed to be I’ll now cast it as the inherent potency of Mercer and Krug’s trembling poems vs. Bejar’s garden maze “la-di-da-di-dum,” the smug prattling of his increasingly insufferable nonsense. “Heartswarm” is a preamble to an idle amble towards nothing. “Spider” is mercifully short. The best thing Bejar does on Enemy Mine is add what sounds like cries of “no suicide!” to Mercer’s disturbed “Peace.” My colleague Conrad Amenta’s disdain for Bejar’s “half-formed gibberish” has been well-documented on this site and is the logical conclusion to the beginnings of my own exasperation with Bejar’s insouciant fuckery—to the point where it’s hard for me to listen to this guy any more without hearing, instead of music, Conrad groaning and muttering “asshole.” And now it’s hard for me not to follow Conrad’s lead. I have to listen repeatedly to Streethawk: A Seduction (2001) to make sure I still like it, such is the retroactive poisoning of an artist becoming self-parody.

If you’ve been counting you’ll know this but each artist here is the principle songwriter on three songs; Mercer’s three are great, Krug’s three are okay-to-good, Bejar’s three are shit. It’s pretty much as simple as that, with only the sequencing and the cameos to mix it up. There was something intoxicating about Beast Moans with its slippery presumption of shared identity and pools of pastel noise in which to drown. Enemy Mine is altogether more defined in its varying forms, food groups falling out a cornucopia rather than coming together like the stew that bubbled in the Beast Moans cauldron. And, sorry, but Bejar’s much more palatable when he’s only another broth-soaked veggie. Plus, I mean, stew’s just good, right.