To say I was dismayed at the inevitable collapse of Playing Enemy is to understate it. I felt a pretty genuine sense of loss knowing that they would never come back through Arizona (and I would never be the only person at their show again) or that I would never get another plaintive song - but wait! I did! And, in my ample gratification, I highly recommend My Life as the Villain.
Im not sure if this was recorded before or after they decided to call it quits, but I feel like that minutia is irrelevant, as the importance of the record speaks for itself. Playing Enemy is by far the longest running hardcore supergroup I can think of. And although also-from-Seattlers Botch kind of take the cake for best finale EP, this doesnt shy away from it by much. Noisecore (or whatever you choose to call it) was largely defined by these guys previous bands, so to say they do it best is a little unjust because they wrote the songs that bands like Norma Jean and Every Time I Die are aping now.
Every song on here feels purposefully constructed, meticulous and expansive. The guitars express the same emotive sense of loss and overwhelming confusion that the lyrics do, while the rhythm section reign and support what would otherwise be a nebulous wreck of pathos and suffering.
I will provide the reader a caveat, though: unlike Playing Enemys recent string of EP's since the release of I Was Your City, they have thankfully shied away from their noise-drone tracks. Im guessing Hemingway, the new noise project of Damien and Shane, have provided them with ample opportunity to excise that creative demon.
Basically, if Playing Enemy ever was your thing - or if their pedigree (Rorschach, Deadguy, Nineironspitfire, Kiss It Goodbye) ever was, I would say My Life as the Villain is an absolute necessity to own.
When Playing Enemy announced their recent demise not long after James Brown shuffled forth this mortal coil, the announcement fell on mostly deaf ears to the majority of underground/ independent music, which is almost as unfortunate (maybe more so) than the band actually calling it a day. Besides the continuation of an impressive lineage of like minded, noise mongering bands from which Playing Enemy derives (members did time in Rorschach and Kiss It Goodbye), the group leaves a legacy of nothing short of consistently slapping listeners around with their discordant concoctions of sound that sometimes hint at subtle melodic tendencies. Another aspect of Playing Enemy's oeuvre is that at times the songs feel as though they could collapse under the density of the discordance, music, and harsh sounding vocals which are present in just about every track. And while this sound concoction can really hit the nail on the head sometimes, the possibility always is there to get lost amongst the songs at times (repetition like this can cause an aural blindness not unlike being snow-blind during a blizzard). My Life As the Villain is an aural document of the final recordings of this three-piece outfit, and even though originally Playing Enemy reportedly were making plans for their next project to be a double CD, the release of this last taste of what they were working on will have to serve as their own twisted eulogy.
All the manic energy that Playing Enemy consistently displays over the course of the recording lifetime makes its presence fully known on My Life As the Villain as the band sets off into the sunset with five intense and chaotic songs that are bulwarked by drummer Andrew Gormley's (formerly of Rorschach and Kiss It Goodbye while now handling the skins duties in Shai Hulud) poly rhythms and frantic drumming with bassist Shane Mehling playing his understated role while Demian Johnston wails and waxes poetics and lays down some extremely discordant and noisy guitars. The opener, "Applause and Abuse," explodes into the aural sphere with dissonant guitars and a quick tempo that eventually gives way to a surprisingly calm movement in the song where the bass is given a chance to take center stage which Mehling takes and makes some great sounds that compliment Johnson's guitar part well; by the time the whole track explodes again, everything sounds rather jumbled until the realization hits that it all works somehow. "Underground Invisibility" is another wholly excellent piece from this power trio as the chaotic noise level seems to be up a few notches as the band plays with dynamics (the part when all the instruments get ominously quiet and Demian vocalizes "I am hurling arrows at their hearts" is a good example) quite a bit while Johnson sounds like he is just venting aggression that has been pent up for a few years; this song may be one of the more violent sounding tracks on My Life As the Villain. One of my two favorite songs on this EP is "An Admission to the Shoulders of Giants" because of the driving, angular rhythms that Playing Enemy puts to use while still indulging listeners with their noisy modus operandi and due to the fact that it shows that the band was still willing to attempt to add to their established sound. The middle section of the song is great with clanging guitars and the bass holding the clangs to the percussion. The other song that I find myself enjoying a great deal is "A Lonely Competition" (the closing track) partly because it has this pervasive timbre that hints at some wicked depression amongst the dissonant guitars chords, rumbling drums and slow rolling bass line; Johnson's vocals contain a hint of grim resignation while at the same time sound rather accusatory (as if he was breaking off some relationship or replaying some anguished parting) while the poignant ending to the song as the band fades out as and Johnson screams "It's just so lonely here" is a wholly fitting end to Playing Enemy's admirable and relatively lengthy tenure as a band.
My Life As the Villain is a striking release to go out on for Playing Enemy; the roughly twenty-five minutes of music smacks of the consistency that the band has displayed on previous releases, two albums (Cesarean and I Was Your City) and several EPs (including Ephemera, Accessory, and a self-released one) while also adding or maybe bringing quite a bit of new twists and turns to the forefront of the cacophony. This record gives me the same excitement that their first LP, Cesarean, gave when it first came out a number of years ago. But My Life As the Villain pays off in ways that the first record just did not (although over time I enjoyed Cesarean more and more), particularly with a bit more sound variety. An awesome swan song for Playing Enemy that smacks of regret because this is a last record and the band sounds in top form. If you pretend to like any of the bands from which this group spawns, order this from Hex immediately because it shows why these guys are or were so great, and just maybe the band will finally be given their due with My Life As the Villain.
9.05 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
Playing Enemy is a three-piece band made up of ex-members of Kiss it Goodbye and Rorschach. I do not bring that up as a selling point, but rather to give ...
Posted March 9, 2004, 10:33 a.m.
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