What happens to a band who trade in angst and aggression as they grow older and wealthier? It’s a question that has haunted many vitriolic young bands. The instinctual reaction is to enter a state of denial; acquiring a greater level of technical sophistication in the hopes of masking the themes of dislocated teenage lust (or rage as the case may be). Thinning hair, expanding guts and teenage sweat sounds, well, abhorrently creepy – mercifully, Enter Shikari avoided that fate while securing a legion of fresh faced fans. Politics gave vocalist Rou Reynolds a new source of (and direction for his) guttural bile and heart pounding optimism. Shikari’s views might not be as revolutionary as they portend, but the group do earnestly live by the mantra they debuted on 2012’s A Flash Flood Of Colour: “Don’t be fooled into thinking that a small group of friends cannot change the world”.
If that sentiment makes you cringe or roll your eyes and cry “naivety” then chances are The Mindsweep will do little to win you over. That’s not to say St. Albans’ noiseniks are still the frenzied proponents of blitzkrieg guitars and pounding rave electronics. Enter Shikari are more ambitious than ever before, eschewing quick thrills for more tangential mood pieces. “The Bank Of England” has all the hallmarks of fiddly-folksy-prog, but this slow burn modern day Guy Fawkes tale doesn’t build toward an inevitable bombardment of guitar noise, but a trippy and (by Shikari standards) understated outro.
“There’s A Price On Your Head” mirrors early System Of A Down in its demented and irreverent assault – and while Shikari struggle to match the Armenians’ sideways subversion they do capture some of their humour (“I’m upper middle class! I am living in the past!”). The party horns are quickly forthcoming, but again Shikari avoid the obvious by offering skittish percussion and some seductively eastern strings that mirror the track’s core riff.
There’s no denying that for all their revolutionary trappings Enter Shikari’s musical choices are shockingly dated. The idea of blending electronics with crunching guitar noise is no longer a novelty and while Shikari can take credit for pioneering the scene, they don’t get a pass for falling hopelessly behind the times. Their synthetics belong to the 90s and even their post-Radiohead skittishness sounds trite – it’s as if the band are oblivious to the wealth of new electronic music made since 2003. This sluggishness manifests itself on “Anaesthetist”; a thrilling defence of universal health care let down by an arrangement that feels like a throwback to an already discredited era.
“The Last Garrison” has no cobwebs to dislodge. This melodic, disillusioned gem is informed by Glaswegian synthpop stars Chvrches and manages to merge nostalgia and modernity with relative ease. “The One True Colour” is a genuinely tender blend of strings, subdued keys and, when the time is right, blustering guitarwork. Enter Shikari are, perhaps for the first time, engaged in considered naval gazing – not as a throwaway contrast in a quiet/loud dynamic, but as a serious sonic experiment in its own right. “Dear Future Historians”, a six minute celestial piano ballad, shows that Shikari are capable of letting their guard down and offering openhearted intimacy. Unfortunately, despite a stirring crescendo, Shikari can’t quite make this purity of sound their own, treading tentatively in Chris Martin’s footsteps instead.
The Mindsweep seeks to simultaneously set the world to rights and expand Enter Shikari’s sonic horizons beyond recognition. Judged only on these two criteria, the album succeeds handsomely, new strings are added to Shikari’s bow at every turn and Rou Reynolds remains a contrived but effective voice of liberal decency in a world of sordid financial hegemony. Unfortunately, in striving towards these two no doubt worthy ends, Shikari struggle to bring the requisite bombast or, frankly, the hooks. Interesting attempts and admirable ambition are not stand-ins for great tunes and while The Mindsweep is Shikari’s most melodic album to date, unforgettable melodies (or throat splintering cries for that matter) are in short supply. Not the promised revolution, but a worthy effort that preaches to the converted.
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