Enablers – Tundra (Exile On Mainstream)
In a manner befitting the most stately and stubborn of rock ensembles, Tundra refuses to be anything more than the sum of its parts. This is hardly a criticism, for Enablers elements are strong enough on their own. Thoroughly depressing monologues are told in gruff tones amongst gentle, trebly, clean guitar melancholia, veering in character from quietly morose to outright furious. So far, so Spiderland, you might think – but Enablers are different. Rather than wallow in their introspection like Slint so entertainingly and affectingly did nearly 20 years ago, Enablers reveal a strong resolve to act on their anger.
The punishing climax of the title track shows this resolve to be their primary trait. Those guitar growl in unison, and Pete Simonelli broods methodically. He doesn’t start quietly with his doomy intimations, he accelerates from an already-accelerated tension point and gradually increases in size with his band behind him every step of the way. The climax of the second verse involves a bartender haunted by the image of a woman’s body (it’s not clear whether or not she’s alive or dead), and Simonelli wonders where she’s gone. “WHERE?!!” he shouts. “WHERE’S SHE BEEN?!!” he continues. He does this with a subtlety previously seen in punches to the arse and, again, the band follows him. Beautifully voiced and balanced chords of only-slightly distorted (but wholesomely punished) guitar and cymbal crashes warp the time signature and provide a much-need synchronisation of previously free-form vocals and ensemble. Then they chuck it all in the bin seconds later by ending on a quiet “or not…”, like skill of that worth is an everyday experience. A clever and exacting thrill.
The remainder of the album doesn’t quite match the fury of those moments, but there are floating textures and rumbling menace throughout that, like few other acts, fits Enablers like a glove. To brood is the right of many bands, but to brood with such undiluted and focused continuance and still make it an entertaining experience is rare. If anything, the monologues would hold up fine on their own, but it’s taken instrumental ingenuity and a sense of placement, restraint and dynamics to make them as unsettling as they are.