Overall Score: 7/10 Music: 7/10 Inventiveness: 8/10 Ingenuity: 7/10 Pros: The band excellently turn their head to yet another new genre in what has been a wonderful career thus far. Cons: Very little
When a band changes their musical style, they are often met with hostility by their entrenched fan base. Often a musical deviation from a base sound is seen as a cynical move to appeal to a broader audience and as such make more money. Look at the people who still decry Metallica’s shift away from thrash to this day, or the vocal minority who lambast Bring Me the Horizon’s more pop-oriented direction, or even the result of the last UK general election and you’ll see that people are reticent to embrace change. But what about bands that don’t have a defined core sound? Bands that turn their hand to different sub-genres with every album, and bands with a more forgiving and dare I say, open-minded fan base. Such a band is the Norwegian two-piece, Aiming For Enrike.
With their debut LP, Mao Miro, Enrike looked at making music with loop pedals through what can broadly be described as alternative or even indie. It’s one hell of an opening salvo from the duo and introduced the world to their wry, smiling oddities in sterling fashion. Follow up, Segway Nation, took a more free-jazz oriented approach and felt far more improvised than its predecessor. It’s a sprawling mass of gentle rhythms and intricate guitar wizardry replete with an understanding of the genre that the twosome co-opted. That understanding of genres being used in their arsenal has made them a respected and adored outfit, as have their chaotic live shows.
On Las Napalmas, there was a distinctly heavier approach taken with influence from metal, rock, samba and post-rock – broadly speaking – to make a cohesive and devilishly catchy marvel. In this third record however, there were elements of dance eking their way into Enrike’s impossible to define sound, particularly on tracks like Social Window. Though the two-piece have changed their root influence time and again, there has always been anchor of uniqueness that kept them sounding esoterically like Enrike. But they aren’t averse to groove or accessibility. Despite conquering ArcTanGent, the famed post-/math-rock festival here in the UK, their music can be understood by a mainstream audience and isn’t so obtuse as to scare away prospective listeners. It’s in these hints of danceability that we could have predicted Enrike’s seemingly unpredictable next move; Music For Working Out.
As the record opens with washed-out riffing setting the template for Christmas Eve, you’re instantly transported to a club dancefloor. The subs are boosted, and the leads are shimmering and pleasant. This isn’t your grungy local dive, however. This is the kind of club dancefloor you see romanticised in 1970s disco films; a beautiful and inclusive space for all to enjoy the rhythm and feel the music. Christmas Eve bears all the hallmarks of Enrike’s indefinable sound; looping rhythms, synths and guitars played through a shedload of effects pedals to sound otherworldly, though on Music… Enrike have elected for the sounds of chart pop music rather than abrasive, angular and histrionic guitars. While the band have never been easy to pigeonhole, it is a stark shift from their previous work, at least sonically if not musically.
Fans of Enrike’s tongue-in-cheek charm needn’t worry about this palpable change in sound for the band; the humour is still there in titles like Don’t Hassle The Hoff. The song itself is another dancefloor ready hit that sees the two-piece explore delicate and curious riffing to build upon in order to make the song a complete and coherent piece. There’s an inquisitive nature to the track’s main motif as if the band are aware that this foray into music more influenced by Daft Punk and Aphex Twin rather than Three Trapped Tigers or The Algorithm will be a shock to the listener. Toes are being dipped into a technicolour water but done so with an amount of confidence and self-assuredness. This questioning aura dissipates quickly as Infinity Rider begins. There’s a stronger sense of cohesion than on the former two songs, not to downplay their impressive craft, that comes to the fore as the listener settles in to Enrike’s new-found niche. The track feels like it could fit in with the synthwave boom and nestle into place on the soundtrack for Hotline: Miami 2, which is a delight as it is one of the best scores video games have ever produced.
The first half of the record is more obviously dance ready than the latter. Hard Dance Brainia is a house inspired 4/4 slam through glorious and infectious soundscapes, the tones of the instrumentation feeling lush and vibrant and the musicianship on display harking back to the early days of electronica. It’s around Diving Within, the album’s mid-point, that the danceability of the record becomes a little more abstruse and the influence of post-rock – once again, broadly speaking – takes hold as the musical picture painted by the duo becomes more expansive and reflexive. The music becomes more subtle and understated, particularly the percussion as Tobias Ørnes Andersen plays a restrained lounge beat, gently tapping the snare’s rims and keeping an off-beat with a carefully implemented hi-hat. It’s chilled out music for the more discerning listener. Simen Følstad Nilsen plays with a feather touch on the likes of Flat Beat, weaving intricate textures that build to a conservative crescendo in the song’s mid-point – presumably where a chorus would go were this not instrumental music. Undead Horse of Thunder and Metal is a curiously reserved track given its title yet has a bombast from the synthesised sounds that almost recall brass symphonies, while penultimate song, Ponzu Saiko is a glitching mass of frenetic, writhing guitars that feel strangled and as if they are holding back. It’s yet another startlingly excellent moment in a rather brilliant piece of work.
As the album reaches its climax with Spice Girls, things end on a note of subtlety rather than in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall abandon. The first half of this record will satisfy fans of more visceral dance music, stuff designed to get you on your feet and moving, while the second is for contemplation; sitting down and stroking your chin and having a good old think about the merits of electric music. In that sense, Music For Working Out only half achieves the ambition set out in its title, and perhaps has been brought to us a disjointed return that misses its own mark. However, Spice Girls’ huge, lurid chords that tower above the soft rhythms make it a broad and exciting work. A perfect note to end the album on: At times unpleasantly bright, sometimes unnatural, but always intriguing. Aiming For Enrike have once again reinvented themselves and, while this sonic shift will be a strenuous one for some listeners – perhaps even too much to handle – intrinsically the soul of what made the band an exciting prospect back in the days of Mao Miro and before is still very much alive. The heart is still beating and Music For Working Out can stand proudly in Enrike’s back catalogue.
The new Aiming For Enrike album, Music For Working Out, is out January 10th via Pekula Records