Long before Enter Shikari were quite as we know them today, the four-piece electronicore outfit from St. Albans were publicly finding their feet. Early tracks ‘Mothership’ and ‘Sorry, You’re Not a Winner’ had Samara-Morgan’d themselves off of MySpace and into the UK charts. People took notice… hell, Kerrang! was giving them coverage before they even had an album out.
Shortly after, debut record Take to the Skies did arrive, and fans got a bunch more songs exactly like the band had already released: silly, quirky, a lot of fun. To the surprise of many, these had a little dusting of social commentary on top. Nothing too upfront mind; how could anything be, on an album with that much vying for your attention? It was there though, and – spoilers – it was not going away.
Shikari knew they were loud, explosive, genre-bending; knew that this alone does not an identity make. They’d done so much work creating one of the most unique, and thus easily-recognisable sounds of the century so far. They just didn’t particularly know what to do with it.
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2009’s Common Dreads didn’t dip toes, it jumped all the way in, serving as an exit point for those unprepared for a journey into the socio-political. There’s often the feeling brevity is eluding them, but as a point of establishment this works. This is Enter Shikari going forward. Then came third-outing A Flash Flood of Colour, and a chance to refine the vision for a new decade. I dunno though, can’t think of anything that happened in the late 00’s/early 10’s that maybe they’d wanna talk about…
Opening two-parter ‘System…’/’…Meltdown’ lays groundwork for what every inch of this experience will be. Frontman Rou Reynolds gets progressively angrier decrying the institutional failings that led to the 2008 economic crash. That beginning is out ahead of a much longer rant, as if he started talking, set himself off and then and-another-thing’d himself here. Shikari pull out every trick in the book for this: crunchy guitars, ethereal synths and Earth-wobbling bass drops inside five and a half minutes. There’s tension and release, tight writing… this serves as a both a perfect pacemaker and the album’s abstract.
‘Sssnakepit’ reclaims the personality that defined their early work, just uses it to different ends. This is a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry anthem. You’re invited to “come and join the party/leave anxieties behind”. Considering the content so far, you can guarantee I’m taking some time to enjoy this.
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‘Search Party’ has aged phenomenally in a way you’d really have liked it not to. The crew is “six thousand million strong” and falling for the same old nonsense (switch the six for an eight for a futureproof singalong… it won’t be long) instead of putting their heads together to drum up alternatives. I think of the artwork for this record (the upside down triangle, the inversion of power) and to that idea specifically, this may be the manifesto. There’s a part towards the end where this pulsing electronic warble syncs up with Rory C’s guitar, and the two meshed together sound like some kind of alien scanner. I love it.
‘Arguing With Thermometers’ has an incredibly sunny verse groove and yes, I hate myself for stooping to that line. Naturally, the topic here is the environment: the excessive consumption of fossil fuels and a general lackadaisical attitude to climate change that’s getting us nowhere. Chalk another one up for the side of the board that reads ‘is still painful’. This is a chaotic track, even by Shikari standards. Rou uses his entire lung capacity, swarmed in a tornado of siren sounds, loathing the stupidity of those waiting to see what happens on the other side of certain disaster.
‘Stalemate’ is a different energy entirely. Kurt Vonnegut’s (paraphrased) words accompany the calming acoustic guitar: “Previous wars made billionaires out of millionaires/today’s wars make trillionaires out of billionaires”. The comparatively minimalistic approach stands out, wedged here in the track-list, and what perfect utility for a song about exasperation. I’ve never tired of the stacked harmonies of Rou and bassist Chris Batten during the songs singular build, nor the respite of the tinkling piano outro.
‘Gandhi Mate, Gandhi’ is back to the maelstrom, and I’ll be honest I’ve never got this one. After this long, ultra-serious monologue about the meaning of life under capitalism, there’s a startling overcorrection of glib. Then a dub break, a bizarre talking segment, and offending worst is the line “yabba dabba do one son”, which makes me physically recoil from second-hand embarrassment. It’s not all terrible. “If we keep them silent, then they’ll resort to violence/And that’s how you criminalise change” is a hell of a line.
‘Warm Smiles Do Not Make You Welcome Here’ flames a milquetoast music industry. Saying everything in the intro about TTTS, its fair to say this is a topic close to the hearts of Enter Shikari: the idea that playing it safe will never yield the desired result. In album context, you may assume a second meaning of cultural non-participance pretty safely. However, in keeping with the topic, they do get specific: “The airwaves are clogged up/But the fickle they lap it up, lap it up”. They are the Flash Flood of Colour we so desperately need.
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‘Pack of Thieves’ is a pep-talk to those already fighting for change. It’s a masterclass in composition, with every four beats/syllables of the verse falling in marching cadence. “Don’t be fooled into thinking that a small group of friends/Cannot change the world.” It’s genuinely one of the best tracks on the album; it just feels so vibrant and alive. This is my standout. I’ll say nothing more but check this one out if nothing else.
‘Hello Tyrannosaurus’ is as as thunderous and angry as the animal itself. In the album’s opener(s) we were invited to consider which laws and legislations still serve this changing world. By now, there’s no questioning left to do. The analogy is not subtle, considering the second half of the title is ‘Meet Tyrannicide’, but the point remains. Out with the archaic. It’s a great track that might’ve stood out a bit more on the A side.
Closer ‘Constellations’ contains far-and-away the messiest metaphor of the whole album. I still find it to be incredibly endearing. Rou cannot board his desired train to “destination sustainability”, as it has been delayed. He vows he’ll get himself there regardless. This song is a world softer than anything else on A Flash Flood, some might say twee, but it comes across to me sincerely. If we’re tying up the whole ‘Enter Shikari took a chance on making the exact thing they wanted’ arc, then not only is this the album, but man, this is the song. I have to give you the standout lyric: “We’ll start a world so equal and free/ Every inch of this Earth is yours, all the land and all the sea/Imagine no restrictions but the climate and the weather/Then we could explore space, together, forever.”
If Common Dreads was Enter Shikari’s coming out party, A Flash Flood of Colour was a raucous afters at a bigger venue. I cannot think of anything their sophomore did that this didn’t do better. All their work since seems to agree with me, this one has stayed in their very DNA. Sure, a few ‘funny’ bits are warm milk in the sun but surely those are no concern? Are you listening to me tell you that a political dubstep-fusion project has managed to age well? Still loud, still defiant and still bloody good.
A Flash Flood of Colour was released on 9th January 2012.