Supergroups, as dazzling as they may initially seem, are often more about unrealized potential than actual musical output. There are few better reminders that music doesn’t work by mathematical equation, considering the inevitable vagaries of ego and clashing ideas, as well as the fact that, sublime as they may be, some flavors just don’t mix. Swan Lake, full of members who themselves have done well in collectives (from the New Pornographers to Sunset Rubdown), defies this maxim with shocking aplomb, merging their complex voices into a tangential mixture that’s somehow even better than the sum of its already talented parts.
The harmony that exists on Enemy Mine is even more impressive, considering the complexity of each of these musical personalities. Dan Bejar, Spencer Krug, and Carey Mercer are not only lead vocalists in their respective projects, they’re songwriters—and distinct ones at that, setting up what should be a squabbling dissonance between competing voices. Yet the album blends them even better than 2006’s already phenomenal Beast Moans, which tended to segregate the three styles, granting each songwriter space to work in and garnishing it with backing contributions from the others. There’s still a definite boundary between styles here (Bejar’s off-the-cuff poetry, Krug’s strange reedy inflection, the quavering madness of Mercer’s delivery), but these differing approaches are no longer so polite, clashing perfectly against one another in songs whose main focus seems to be heading entirely off the map. “Spanish Gold, 2044,” though written by Mercer, gives equal space to each member, resulting in a song that tugs and pulls between styles and forms.
The songs generally push one singer into a primary role and have the others scale back, but these designations often change within the song itself, as on “Battle of Swan Lake,” which begins with Bejar’s babbling ruminations over a muted organ waltz before Mercer’s vocals overtake him, entirely transforming the tone of the track. This kind of struggle challenges the standard verse-chorus structure and render Enemy Mine a relentlessly curious, ever-shifting album. Even more standard songs like “Peace” sputter and flame up with the bursting quality of battling voices. This incessant sense of creative movement makes Enemy Mine one of the best albums of the year, the sound of three great musicians forged into a product bigger than themselves.