I’ve been a fan of Enter Shikari pretty much since time began, and ever since I heard We Can Breathe in Space they’ve been one of my favourite bands. They don’t hold back when it comes to fusing elements of a vast array of music influences, and I think it’s this boldness and willingness to experiment that has ensured their longevity where other bands who started with them have fallen into obscurity.
My love for this band is by no means unconditional however, and I certainly don’t love everything they release unquestioningly. It took me a VERY long time to appreciate The Spark, and there isn’t a single album of theirs where I like every single song. I think that’s a good thing though; it’s a testament to their diversity, that even a loyal fan can find things within their repertoire that they aren’t particularly into. All of my favourite artists have songs that I don’t particularly enjoy, and that’s fine. Besides, it’s not like Enter Shikari are lacking in a back catalogue — I can listen to them for hours without hitting a song I don’t like, and that’s saying something.
So, here we are in 2020 with album number six, Nothing is True & Everything is Possible. Regardless of your opinion on the music on this album, there’s no denying that a large amount of passion and love went into making it, and there’s a real feeling that they tried to make something here that’s coherent as a concept piece. Arguably every album has been this way, but this one is different in the approach. It’s more ambitious, bombastic, daring… some serious risks have been taken on this album, and many of the creative decisions made here won’t appeal to everybody — me included. But I can still appreciate the sentiment, and applaud them for pushing the bounds of what they’re capable of achieving as a band. And I promise you, there is plenty here to be enjoyed for those who are fans of the sounds on previous albums, particularly if you consider the Flash Flood/Mindsweep era to be your favourite (as I do).
I have to say, my main disappointment with this album isn’t that it has songs on that I don’t particularly like (I fully expect that to be the case for any album by any artist). It’s a personal preference that most probably won’t even notice, let alone mind, but I really was looking forward to the staple ‘fast’ track; Take To The Skies had several, Common Dreads had Step Up, Flash Flood (basically) had Quelle Surprise, Mindsweep had One True Colour, and even The Spark (y’know, the ‘pop’ album) had Take My Country Back. To me it’s a signature of the Shikari sound, and I guess it just feels like a core element of the experience has been left out. Who knows, maybe there are some orbital tracks that didn’t make it to the album that will be released as stand-alones. Maybe we’ll even get another Rat Race style EP?
That being said, I think this is a fantastic album. I don’t particularly like every song, but that doesn’t stop it from working brilliantly as a focused, concisely-themed body of work, which to me is what an album should be. Slapping a bunch of singles together that have nothing to do with each other makes no sense to me, so from a purely objective place, this album does its job very well.
If I was the kind of wanker to give a rating, Nothing is True & Everything is Possible would get a solid four out of five biscuits. Now go and get a biscuit and listen to this album with me.
The Great Unknown is a very smart choice for an album opener. I feel like it sets the tone for what to expect whilst being one of the more ‘traditional’ sounding tracks. We’re in Gandhi Mate, Gandhi/Radiate/Myopia territory, which is good news for people like me who are big fans of the Flash Flood/Mindsweep era, but there are certain sonic elements that are very reminiscent of Step Up from Common Dreads. It’s a dynamic track, driving in places and falling back in others, but it packs a punch where it matters. The highlight for me is the intro section, moving from an actually quite emotional piano hook into a grinding crescendo, which if anything I only wish built up into ‘more’ — the chorus certainly pays off, but it’s a delayed gratification and I’m not sure if having it hit soon after the build might have really capitalised on that pent up tension. In any case, The Great Unknown is a very solid Shikari track that no doubt will appeal to those who are fans of this aspect of their sound.
No matter how many times I listen to this song, I just can’t get into it. I don’t agree that it doesn’t fit their style, it just doesn’t appeal to me melodically. It reminds me of Johnny Sniper/Keep It On Ice but with more of The Spark kind of flavour, and it has something of a novelty feel to it like The Jester, which has never really been a part of their sound that I enjoy. There are points I do quite like though, the ‘something’s got to give’ refrain is really quite slick, and of course the throwback to Labyrinth is a nice little touch, but for the most part, I find myself skipping this one.
Dreamer’s Hotel has been around for a little while now, long enough for me to know that I think it’s really cool, and it takes me back to the 2013 singles; not so much in terms of groove (Rat Race and Paddington Frisk are much faster), but the rawness and sound design elements definitely feel like they’d have been at home on that EP. There are some clever vocal tricks bouncing around, little harmonies and processes that give a nice melodic contrast to the heavier elements of the track. Lyrically it’s one of the few tracks on the album that I find resonate well with me, I’m not an especially political person but this track is more concerned with human psychology, mob mentality and mass disillusion which are things I find conceptually very interesting. Dreamer’s Hotel is also one of the only places on the album where you can distinctly hear Chris, which is always reassuring, like having an old pal round for tea.
Eugh, back to the novelty tracks. Coming in like a delirious circus, which I imagine was fully intentional, Waltzing is just one of those tracks that if it came on in the car, I’d be skipping it because it’s a bit of a vibe-killer. There are some really nice melodic elements tucked away in the background but they get lost to the melody, which is a shame because I think they would have really shone if the vibe was different. As the song progresses it moves toward a more balanced feel, but this is quickly ruined by the grinding atonal metallic thing that comes in over the top like someone scraping a stick on a skip, which is again, another shame. I fully get what they were going for with this track — it’s supposed to sound ridiculous, it’s supposed to be a sonic illustration of humanity’s daft little waltz toward oblivion, and conceptually I think it’s really colourful and creative. But from a pure listening standpoint? It’s another one for the skip list I’m afraid.
I’m ambivalent about this track. I don’t mind the chorus, it’s got a pretty cool groove to it, the heavy bass design suits the vibe, and the ‘we’re apocaholics, drinking gin and tonics’ is such a fantastic way of summarising everything wrong with a generation (my generation, honestly we’re a bunch of morons). But the verses, oh man the verses. Weird Streets kind of half-rap vocals that remind me of Hadouken (who I always felt like were a bit of a budget Shikari, sue me), and Rou just tends to write much better vocal hooks than that. I guess the best way to think about this track is that I don’t intentionally go to put it on, but I don’t mind listening to it all the way through when it does play.
This isn’t so much a track as it is a bridge between tracks, which is fine, I enjoy well-constructed albums and regardless what you think of the actual music on this one, it’s an incredibly well crafted piece of cohesive artwork. Because it’s more of a utility piece, there’s not so much to say about it. It has some interesting vocal stretch and pitch modulation that gives it a sense of having an identity, but really the only time you’re likely to hear it is if it plays through while you’re listening to the album. It’s interesting, but it’s not a standalone piece.
NOW we’re talking. This is easily one of my favourite Shikari tracks full stop, never mind just from this album. It’s airy, it’s atmospheric, it’s pretty. It has an electronica feel to it, which I know sounds daft in the context of their music, but I’m talking more like Skrillex’s melodic stuff, that kind of electro-pop that actually sounds really cool when it’s done well. There’s a lot of future bass-inspired sound design as well, which is most apparent during the little break around 50 seconds in, with the Flume-style attack modulation that really suits the ‘sweetness’ of the sonic atmosphere. There’s just something so warm about this track, it feels comfy and reassuring, and it’s easy to listen to it on repeat without fatiguing the ears. The ‘you better figure it out’ hook is incredibly addictive, and in general the track as a whole is a cracking showcase of Rou’s vocal dexterity. The entire song is an evolving, dynamic shift towards the culminating measures, and structurally it bears a lot of resemblance to tracks like Gap in the Fence, Warm Smiles and Bank of England. Simply put, I love this song.
Another bridging track which at first seems like there isn’t much to talk about, other than some interesting use of sound design and of course the throwback to Enter Shikari’s iconic refrain, ‘and still we will be here, standing like statues.’ But the observant will twig that Reprise 3 is actually a direct sequel to Reprise 2 from Take To The Skies, and if played in succession they almost seamlessly transition (I bet there was a small part of them that wanted to go back and re-record Reprise 2 just to make that transition even smoother, at least I know I’d have been fighting that urge). The complete tone shift between the two is emblematic of how much this band has grown, changed and developed, but still acknowledge their roots. The more you analyse it, the more powerful it is, and that’s a tall order for a piece of music that doesn’t even clock in at a minute in length.
Melting straight out of Reprise 3 is T.I.N.A, another easy Shikari future classic. Also a throwback to the Destabalise/Warm Smiles type of fusion-charged, synth-heavy groove, TINA evolves beyond to carry a strong sense of emotiveness; it feels melancholic, like something is being mourned, which gives the whole piece a dynamic sense of significance. The heavier parts hit harder, the quick parts move quicker, because everything feels like it’s moving toward a purpose. The sprinkling of TINAs in the prechoruses are a whole hook in themselves, and contrast nicely with the main event. There are a lot of great ideas in this track that all get the space to have their voices heard, and that dynamic progressiveness makes it another track that’s easy to listen to on repeat.
Although Elegy may be considered another ‘novelty’ track, there’s no denying how incredibly epic the whole piece is. This is the kind of thing I would have liked to have seen have more attention paid to on this album, if diverse exploration of possibility (the theme of the album, no less) was the name of the game. This is clearly the soundtrack to victory and success, and it conjures up very vivid imagery. It might just be because I’m playing Final Fantasy at the moment, but that’s the kind of thing I see when I look at the sonic landscape Elegy paints (who am I kidding, I’m always playing Final Fantasy). It’s this album’s Fanfare/Constellations/Future Historians, and it’s a natural evolution of this kind of Shikari track. They’ve always been fairly orchestral pieces, so it’s nice to see them finally lean into it and just work with a damn orchestra. There are loads of lovely little melodies threaded throughout this piece, and I guarantee if you listen to it first thing in the morning it’ll get you nice and energised for the day — it truly is Music to Save the World! to (see, I can throwback to old projects too!)
We’re coming into what I consider to be the longest stretch of ‘unskippable’ consistency on this album. Marionettes I is back to the Arguing With Thermometers/Myopia/Rabble Rouser kind of syncopated groove, and it’s this kind of style that I’ve enjoyed most from more recent Shikari albums. Like the pressure’s on, Marionettes I is incredibly addictive, with the ‘get it together’ hook proving to be absolutely spine-tingling. I don’t have a lot more to say about it than that, and anyway we don’t have time because…
…Marionettes II comes straight in without even pausing for breath. This is another ‘bridged’ piece, but in the context of two full songs this time. Cracking in with a sonorous chant that carries considerable weight, The Ascent has some of the most evocative lyrics on the album. This idea of marionettes looking up and realising they’re on strings makes for a powerful (and chilling) image, and it’s this kind of imagery that I really enjoy in lyrics. There’s a seamless transition when the lead creeps in, which signals the most epic part of the album, the part where Marionettes II opens up into a sprawling choral vista that is quite honestly some of the best songwriting we’ve ever had from this band. I have to wonder whether this was directly inspired by the main hook from the Witcher Wild Hunt (listen to Kaer Morhen, the end of Blood and Wine or For Honor! For Toussaint! to see what I mean), or if it’s just a melodic coincidence (like i don’t know what to say by BMTH and Fractal by Tinlicker). Even if it was intentional, I don’t blame them — I had the same urge to recreate that melodic energy when I first heard it in the Witcher. Regardless of its origin, for me it’s the pinnacle of this album and I truly feel like Marionettes II will long be considered one of the best Enter Shikari songs of all time. Of all time.
Enter Shikari have a knack for songs that create powerful emotions, the kind that really inspire you to get up and go and do something. I’m not ashamed to say that to this day, songs like Solidarity, The Appeal & the Mindsweep I and The Last Garrison can make me tear up, purely because they’re so evocative: they flip that psychological switch that only music can and truly make you feel something. satellites is another that has this kind of intrinsic energy to it. It’s a soaring, euphoric voyage into skies and space, laden with huge, overwhelming feelings, the kind that make you feel like you’re going to burst. ‘Because I think it could be love, but I can’t show you enough’ perfectly embodies this feeling. I think we’ve all felt in ways that elude articulation, ways that are potent and primal and exciting and scary all at once. To me, those are the times where existence is at its peak. It’s true living, and music that embodies that feeling is hard to come by. The kind of music that elicits those feelings is different for every person, but for this person, satellites is certainly one of the rare songs that does.
The King is another that has been around for a while, and it’s been a bit of a grower for me. The intro still irritates me a bit, but once it warms up around the thirty second mark it becomes a very enjoyable listen. The chorus is another that has a subtle hint of melancholy beneath the vibrantly ‘happy’ sounding brass, and it works again to create a sense of dynamism and ambiguity in the music that gives many of the songs on this album an extra edge of sophistication. Rou has said in an interview that this is an album about dichotomy, about the good and bad aspects of possibility, and I think many of the melodic choices on this album serve to really paint that picture. The King has a lot to offer, moves through different flavours and phases as it progresses, and ultimately serves as a testament to this band’s dextrous approach to songwriting.
I know I said that Elegy was this album’s Constellations/Fanfare, but I guess in actuality it has two of them, the other being the final track, Waltzing II. I have a lot more time for this track that Waltzing I, largely because it’s a lot more melodic and I guess a lot ‘easier’ to listen to? It recapitulates a lot of the sonic elements that have been prevalent throughout the album in a way that wraps things up nicely, and despite the ominous lyrical matter, I feel it ends on an optimistic note. It’s another one that has these really open, airy spaces, the kind that really paint vivid sonic pictures — it’s hard not to see visions of utopias and picturesque vistas, especially between the 20 and 50 second mark. The ambiguous closing sounds add to this sense of there being something beyond the veil, like a post-credits scene, which again is very fitting given the heavily cinematic nature of this album. It might not be the first song you choose to listen to when you come to this album, but it certainly feels like a suitable way to finish.
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About the curator - Matt Jenko
Hi my name is Matt, but my friends call me Matt. I’m on the wrong side of 29 (damn I hate it every time I have to update that number), definitely feeling my age, but never felt happier and more content than I do at this point in my life. I’ve been through some rocky patches (who hasn’t) and lived to tell the tale, and boy do I gots some stories.
When I’m not giving opinions absolutely nobody asked for, I’m doing a worldbuilding with my passion project, vivaellipsis. If you like offbeat nonsense delivered through immersive escapism, then go and get involved. Or don’t, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not yer boss.
I’m a simple man with simple interests. I like Yorkshire tea, the sound of rain on the window, and a bloody good story.