When infinite information is available 24 hours a day at the click of a button, it can become difficult to distinguish between waking life and dream life. Virtual identities supersede their real-world counterparts as images both horrific and idyllic are browsed casually. Scenes that once seemed possible only in nightmares are captured and sold as reality, and sleeping states become repositories for the mundane details of increasingly surreal routines. It is in this blurred cycle of waking and dreaming that Roommate’s We Were Enchanted finds its foundation.
Much like a dream, the album does not follow a purely linear structure; instead, it is formed from a series of startling images, both gorgeous and grotesque, from which a series of themes emerges: The escapism and anonymity of digital life; the endless, vacuous cycle of modern news; the struggle to connect meaningfully with the earth and other humans in a wasteful and destructive society; the seductive appeal of fantasy and nostalgia in a landscape defined by American Idolatry and Wars of Terror. Avoiding easy cynicism, Roommate examines these and other themes with earnest idealism and self-observant irony, finding hope, beauty and humor where little seems possible.
The production of We Were Enchanted began in the spring of 2006, just before the release of Roommate’s critically acclaimed debut album Songs the Animals Taught Us. This period saw Roommate complete its transition from the solo project of Chicagoan Kent Lambert to a cohesive and versatile live band and recording ensemble. Preliminary tracks were recorded in Lambert’s bedroom studio, but it didn’t take long for the album to become a wholly collaborative project. All manner of experiments were conducted, from the recording of a choir of canjos (instruments made by Southside Chicago high school students from coffee cans and plywood) for the album’s opening to the use of turpentine cans, empty kegs and beat-up hubcaps as percussion. Old friends and new acquaintances were invited to contribute horn parts and guitar solos or join in on chorus vocals. By the time of the album’s completion in October 2007, the band had worked in seven different recording environments with over twenty musicians, including some of Chicago’s most celebrated free jazz players as well as former and current members of such bands as Califone, Till By Turning, Imaginary Folk, Fruit Bats, and Mucca Pazza.
Dramatically shifting and evolving over the course of the album, the sounds of Lambert and his cast of backing musicians strike a deft balance between organic and electronic, dissonant and harmonious, all the while capturing the elusive, abstract emotions of the lyrics. It is not a sound easily described with a laundry list of influences. While there are moments here and there that may spark a memory of 60s & 70s psychedelic rock or 80s synth-pop, a hint of Nilsson-esque bar-room piano, Faust-ian analog synths or delicate strings ala Talk Talk, this is music with eyes gazing into the future, seeking out new ways of expressing a poetic, ecstatic truth.
We Were Enchanted is an album that moves beyond casual listening and begs participation. This is a work so utterly of its time, and so reflective, that it is impossible not to engage it; these characters aren’t just people we know or archetypes we can relate to, they are us. In its execution, the album opens a new dialogue, something few works of art can do. In a world full of easy answers to impossible questions, there is no greater rebellion than an honest conversation.