Swan Lake, More than Just a Ballet

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The symbolic jarring contrast between Swan Lake’s band name and the title of their second full-length album, “Enemy Mine,” is indicative of how the band’s music and lyrics alternate between the literal and the absurd. Swan Lake has an unbeatable three man roster with: Carey Mercer, the lead singer and songwriter for Frog Eyes; Dan Bejar, one of the three co-singers for The New Pornographers/lead singer and songwriter for Destroyer; and Spencer Krug, the co-singer and keyboardist for Wolf Parade/leader of Sunset Rubdown. The three musicians are kindred spirits, all making frequent allusions in their lyrics to mythical archetypes, beasts from fantasy worlds and Medieval and Renaissance traditions. In some ways, Bejar may be the ringleader of these theatrical elements as his voice resembles that of a jovial and mysterious court jester from centuries ago.

Although Mercer’s ominous and often times abrasive electric guitar playing from previous Frog Eyes albums and Bejar’s sparse acoustic guitar arrangements from Destroyer have obviously influenced Krug’s work with Sunset Rubdown, “Enemy Mine” is an almost regrettable sign that Krug is continuing to progress as an artist while Mercer and Bejar seem to languish with their age-worn formulas.

The equal division of labor on the album is obvious, as each member sings lead vocals on three songs, but the greatest degree of quality rests almost entirely on the three songs on which Krug sings. Mercer’s mercurial voice has been charging out the same kind of fragmented song structures for album after album now. His songs sound as if they could have come off any of Frog Eyes’ previous albums. His almost Dadaist approach is neither inviting nor original, and his songs are the definite low points of the album. Bejar’s songs fare a little better than Mercer’s tracks because of the occasional shimmering guitar work similar prior Destroyer albums, but his cryptic lyrics also seem to be trying just as hard as Mercer’s to be strange just for the sake of being strange.

Without trying to over-praise Krug, he definitely knows how to walk the fine line between being evocative and enjoyable. While Mercer and Bejar share differing degrees of cynicism in their songs, Krug makes opulent and experimental music while also showing traits of an intelligent humanist.

Here’s to hoping that “Enemy Mine” is a sign that Krug’s next Sunset Rubdown album is going to be an even greater successor to his body of work.

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