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Friend/Enemy - 10 Songs

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Artist: Friend/Enemy

Album: 10 Songs

Label: Perishable

Review date: Jul. 9, 2002

Billed as the new avante-garde undertaking from ex-Joan of Arcists, Tim Kinsella and Todd Mattei, Friend/Enemy is grand undertaking allegedly involving a personnel of twelve. The ensemble sounds sort of like a who’s who of up-and-coming musicians. Among the Friend/Enemy cast are members of Califone, Mansion (NKA Baos), 90 Day Men, Need New Body, Hella, Euphone/Sunny Day Real Estate, Bride of No No, and others. The result ends up sounding obscurely like an ambient Joan of Arc with better musicians, and in retrospect, this album seems to come as a sort of precursor to Joan of Arc’s upcoming reincarnation in trio form.

Truly, despite the addition of a wide variety of instruments including piano, pedal steel, banjo, organ, and marimba, Friend/Enemy can’t escape the more defining mark of Tim Kinsella, Chicago’s well-known charismatic asshole. While Kinsella’s style of singing has always been unique and often appealing, his vocal lines continue to be strikingly unimaginative. Nonetheless, he’s in good company, most notably with two phenomenal drummers, Zac Hill (Hella) and Chris Powell (Need New Body). The drum work on the album remains solid throughout.

Modestly titled, 10 Songs attempts to tackle a lot of material. There are moments of more traditional song writing, in the vain of Joan of Arc’s experimental pop, such as “I’d Rather Be High than Fucked Any Day” and the Owls-esque “Cough Soft Cock Rock,” but the large majority of the songs pursue more atonal and airy forms. The first track is presumably an homage to Thax Douglas, Chicago’s now popular yet still inexplicable indie-rock poet. Fittingly, the lyrics here are as abstruse as one of Douglas’ poems: “My nightvision might be just confident blindness / But I know old men must parade by the strobing windows in half time.” Musically here and elsewhere, the guitar work and uncommitted vocals are sporadic over a continuous bass line, building towards an atonal cacophonous finish.

Better executed however are tone pieces like, “Teeny Comealong,” or “Out at the Inner (Dark)” in which sparse acoustic sounds are underwritten by the spastic and unmistakable drumming of Zac Hill, whose echoey mix makes it sound like he may as well be playing in the next studio over (both sound quality-wise and in respect to the almost incompatible styles between the musicians.) “Tenny Comealong” is the high point of the album, with dual-singing and pedal steel guitars. Kinsella fades into the background, as keyboards and guitars carry out a type of monotone dirge with a back beat.

But aside from these islands of interesting musical ideas, the band often falls on the negative side of the fine line between mediocrity and subtlety. The vocals and lyrics themselves are fairly uninspiring and the amount of raw talent seems wasted on music that ends up being more suitable for background listening. While it has its moments, they are few and far between. Friend/Enemy in the end comes off as a half-hearted experiment with orchestration, rather than the coherent or compelling project it tries to be. Even with a great line-up and wide musical scope, Friend/Enemy can’t help but remain fairly unimpressive.

By Matt Kellard

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