Enter Shikari – Common Dreads [Album]

Sample review, never previously published.

St. Albans’ four-piece Enter Shikari distance themselves on second album Common Dreads from ‘post hardcore with bits of electro tacked on’. Never knowingly unoriginal, Enter Shikari incorporate yet more electronica in a pleasingly postmodern mashup that moves further away from a straightforward rock blueprint. Here they stride towards a truly unique sound, crushing up genres and sprinkling them over Common Dreads as if they were sugar on breakfast cereal.

First the broad statements; this is a much more electronic album than debut full-length, the immensely listenable Take to the Skies. You won’t find many of the palm-muted power chords featured there kicking the sides of your skulls in this time around; the guitars are generally a lot lower in the mix. Speaking of which, Roughton ‘Rou’ Reynolds is front and centre, you can barely move in Common Dreads without tripping over his voice. This is a brave decision on producer Andy Gray’s part, as every crack and imperfection of Reynolds’ vocals are magnified, at times unbearably. But it’s also a move that partly pays off, as Reynolds undeniably displays great range, from spoken word to throaty shouts via almost-tuneful singing. This production also draws attention to the mass of lyrical content, but since there’s much to be discussed – with regard to both lyrics and the album as a whole – that particular aspect can be dealt with later.

Stylistically, Common Dreads lurches all over the place, from grindcore in Juggernauts’ mental finger-tapping intro and post hardcore in No Sleep Tonight’s cleaving chorus and deft key change, to acid trance with Havoc A’s self-consciously trippy bleepings. Antwerpen captures the album’s sound in microcosm, flailing like a burning rabbit in a padded cell from metalcore pinch harmonics to hardcore drum ‘n’ bass. The result is an eclectic album to say the least, and the effect leaves the listener slightly bewildered. It’s difficult to take in a track like Zzzonked on first listen, but repeated exposure reveals it as one of Common Dreads’ finest hours. Supercharged effects rattle off the walls as 8-bit synthesizers whoop and chime on top of dubstep bass, towing along frantic drums and guitars. “Mate! What the fuck are you on about?!” Reynolds screams exasperatedly before a breakdown piles in; this really is epic stuff. It’s crushingly heavy, albeit in a completely different way than typical categorisation of ‘heavy’ music usually allows. Tracks such as Zzzonked, Havoc B and The Jester defy genrefication in thrillingly creative ways; this is experimentation gone very, very right. The main focus however is undoubtedly Rou Reynolds’ somersaulting vocal delivery. At times the near-constant presence of Reynolds’ voice slides dangerously close to being an annoyance. Once or twice you just wish the band would give the song a bit of room to breathe and leave the polemic to one side for a short while. Indeed when they do so, most notably on the breathless, pogoing chorus of The Jester, the album reaches one of its highlights. Perhaps the chattering and clammering voices of Common Dreads mirror the incessant nature of an information technology-saturated world. But, as we all know, that modern white noise is entirely maddening, and it seems ill advised for a band to elicit such a response in their music.

It’s genuinely difficult to know what to make of this album. Parts such as the opener, Common Dreads, and the intro to The Jester blur the fine line between terrible and brilliant uncomfortably. The title track’s ominous statement-of-intent poetry for instance comes off as slightly hammy- sounding; it all gets a bit Doctor Who. Generally, I find the politics and social commentary to be somewhat laboured, just the wrong side of heavy-handed. Although the band’s hearts are clearly in the right place, for every prophetic sentiment hinted at (“sometimes I do wish apples were our currency, so your hoarded millions would rot in their vault” on Step Up) there are several which strike as slightly excruciating to listen to. When Fanfare for the Conscious Man reveals Common Dreads as a recession record, the effect is not one of sudden clarity, but of yet another issue rearing its head. Shikari spread their net too far, as if they intend to namecheck every last evil in the world before the album’s close. It could be argued that the specifics spelled out over the album’s course shouldn’t be taken on face value, it’s more the overall unrest communicated that is important. And true enough, Reynolds’ lyrics, like his voice, are raw, unpolished and intentionally under-produced. But it seems a little early in Enter Shikari’s career to be embarking upon the magnum opus that they’re clearly aiming for here. Yes they have a message to convey and yes they have a limited exposition in which to do so. But the sentiment is gained that with a little more fine-tuning and a little less lyrical carpet-bombing, that message could’ve been much more succinct, and therefore effective.

It’s imaginably like glimpsing the inside back cover of a 14-year-old emo kid’s maths exercise book. The emo kid, and Enter Shikari, would dearly love to change the world, and feel that they can. But from an audience’s perspective, looking from the outside in, the claims are a little too grandiose, all-sweeping, generalised. Possibly even rose-tinted. Yes we know, capitalism is bad, we should unite (unity being a lyrical theme revisited several times over Common Dreads’ course), we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be governed by corrupt and faceless bureaucrats and so on. But ultimately all that is offered here is a list of things wrong, and one way of tackling them; to unite. This is at best an idealistic view of the world, and although the more impressionable listeners in Shikari’s audience – looking at you here, emo kid who thinks nobody understands him – will lap it up, it’s uncertain whether everyone else will be convinced.

So in conclusion, Common Dreads is a cut above the usual ‘more of the same, but better’ sophomore effort. Despite being an exhilarating and inventive experience, it falls short of Take to the Skies’ highlights. There isn’t anything here to rival Sorry You’re Not A Winner’s excitable post hardcore crunch or Mothership’s anthemic bluster. That said, however, the general standard across all tracks is much higher on Enter Shikari’s latest effort, and it would be tremendously unfair to substantially mark down such a brave and experimental record on the basis of the complaints outlined here. This is fine work, and although its political aspirations skim just shy of the mark, Common Dreads is excellent album of a young band’s most coherent material yet.

8 out of 10.

Zzzonked on Spotify
It speaks volumes that this is far more mental than 99% of records get, but not quite as mental as Common Dreads gets.

Ambush Reality/Tiny Evil Records
Enter Shikari on Myspace
Enter Shikari on Last.fm

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