Hard work, ambition and unquestioning self-belief are qualities Enter Shikari have always had in spades. Since their emergence as ringleaders of the short-lived trancecore scene in the late 00s, the tireless quartet have racked up a ridiculous number of touring hours, most recently lugging around a huge quadraphonic surround sound system in the wake of their last record ‘The Spark’.
From the early days the band released music through their own Ambush Reality label, allowing them the artistic freedom to indulge their adventurous approach to songwriting. Hardcore, trance, emo, grime, dubstep, pop, drum & bass and indie have all, at one point or another, been mixed into the big Shikari cauldron. The results may vary, but it’s always damned impressive to witness the fearlessness with which this gang of amateurs approach the task of identifying, recreating and incorporating latest trends in pop and electronic music into their sound, often teaching themselves whole new techniques and programmes from scratch in the process.
Put simply, Enter Shikari are always happy to jump on the latest bandwagon, provided they can ride shotgun, necking cans and poking their head through the sunroof throughout. With a frontman as charismatic as Rou Reynolds and the hefty rhythm section of Chris Batten and Rob Rolfe in the back, this never used to be a problem, as whatever style they chose to mimic would be delivered with such fury so as to set the band apart from their influences. Even when the ‘The Spark’ traded in much of this energy for radio playability, they still escaped with their idiosyncratic charm and sense of personality intact. But Enter Shikari really do lose something of themselves on ‘Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible’, an album buried under the boundless ambition of its creators.
As reflected by it’s garish, school fete flyer cover, Enter Shikari have eschewed expertly adding a few new colours to their palette this time around. Instead, they try to do absolutely everything. There’s are sweeping movements from the Prague Symphony Orchestra, ambient ballads, a political tirade set to oom-pah music, autotuned harmonies, tech metal guitar plunges, 808 patters, pitch-shifted vocals, tropical house drops, Stranger Things arpeggiated synths… Basically every post-dubstep production trend and studio technique is stuffed in here, with barely enough room leftover for the kitchen sink.
With so many ingredients being added all at once, it is no surprise that many of the results fail badly. The saccharine ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ sounds like the band had a madcap plan to replace Shakira on Disney’s Zootropolis sequel, although as it stands it would be lucky to sneak onto Trolls: World Tour. One could easily mistake ‘the pressure’s on’ for an Everything Everything B-side if only it had a bit more grit, personality and political edge. Elsewhere the nursery rhyme chorus and aggressive broken percussion of ‘modern living…/ apocoholics anonymous’ mimics the savage PC Music of Sophie’s ‘Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides’, but where she successfully punches a hole through shitty manufactured pop to end up on the far side, Enter Shikari fall short and land on something unlistenable.
There are flashes of brilliance on this record that remind the listener how good Enter Shikari can be when they remember to be Enter Shikari. ‘THE GREAT UNKNOWN’ comes absolutely roaring out of the gates, while ‘T.I.N.A.’s stabbing dancefloor synths and breakneck drums fire up the blood wonderfully. But these flashes notably tend to come when Shikari are playing on home turf, not when they’re pretending to be someone they aren’t (that ‘someone’ being The 1975 more often than not). For a band whose finest moments tend to be their most daring and experimental, this is not a good state of affairs.
That being said, Enter Shikari clearly remain a thrillingly ambitious, independent and fearless force of creation. The fact that their commitment to these core virtues has finally resulted in a messy and frequently unlistenable record does not mean that they should compromise their evident independence and artistic integrity in pursuit of something better crafted and more well-thought-out.
Enter Shikari have the tools and drive to create something potentially mind-blowing, it’s just that they fell well short of the mark on this occasion.
Words: Josh Gray
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