A muscular, adventurous rock record that grits its teeth, sticks a finger in your face and dares you to notice that the vocalist isn't singing.
As you might expect from a Neurot Recordings release, this record runs deep. As the label is home to such powerhouses as Isis, Oxbow and Neurosis, I was expecting some heavy lifting when I received Enablers sophomore effort Output Negative Space, but this record has turned out to be head banging of an altogether different sort. Output Negative Space is one of the most intensely cerebral records you'll hear this year. Don't let that scare you off; it also rocks with an intricacy and subtle power that's both refreshing and unexpected.
The pedigree of Enablers is clear cut. Guitarist Joe Goldring has worked with Swans, Toiling Midgets and Neurosis' Steve Von Till's solo projects. Second guitarist Kevin Thomson is best known for his work with Timco. Drummer Joe Byrnes has provided beat for Tarnation and Broken Horse. These guys can play. Check out the opening of "Five O'clock, Sunday", the way the drums and guitars seem to just fall out of the speakers like drunks from a hastily opened car door. The band is stumbling from the second the song starts, but it's controlled enough to have a swagger that seems almost malevolent. Then vocalist Peter Simonelli strolls into the song, as casually as a bad ass walking into his neighborhood watering hole, "when the doors part, the heads at the bar swivel like pooches to a snatch ..." And this is where we'll spend the next three and a half minutes, cloistered in a bar as dysfunctional as the one you've just left, or are currently dreaming about getting away to. The music swells on muscular guitar fills, a clanging swirl that ebbs and flows around Simonelli's story. The songs on Output Negative Space aren't driving, aggressive compositions so much as restrained exercises in disgust. You get the feeling that these guys are pissed, and it's only each successive riff or fill that holds back a black deluge on a pitiable world inhabited by drunks, cheats, and backstabbers.
On the best records the musicians and the vocalist work together seamlessly. For Enablers, this complex give and take is all the more delicate and perilous because Simonelli doesn't sing. He's a storyteller and a poet, a chronicler of lives wasted and saved. I suppose the easy out is to call it spoken word, but that phrase doesn't come close to doing the entire package justice. Simonelli may not carry the melody, but his deep baritone fills the spaces in these songs where the absence of a bass guitar might otherwise be noticed. His words are an urbane counterpoint (literate and restrained though pointedly judgmental of his character's foolish choices) to the music's sinister howl. There's no verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus construction here. There's a far deeper complexity both lyrically and musically, but all the pieces dance together with the kind of brutal beauty you see in the chaos of a brawl.
Musically, what Enablers accomplish is stunning. The band manages to be heavy, soft, powerful and timid all within the space of a single song. The band never overwhelms Simonelli, but instead gives him a backdrop on which to project his story, and then fists to drive his point home. While the song structures are not in the least bit traditional, there is a symmetry within the songs: Attentive listening reveals a sort of call and response between the instruments, a jagged framework of back and forth, yielding and unyielding.
A release like Output Negative Space is a reminder of why I listen to music. This is the sound of a band going out on a limb. Enablers are doing something so markedly different from every other band, that you realize the only sense of obligation they feel is to their muse. She just happens to be a stone-hearted bitch who didn't need that last shot.