Fluent and assured, “Enemy” casts a compelling spell with minimal fuss—a deftly picked electric guitar, a smoky soprano (perhaps mezzo?), and artfully arranged backing vocals are just about all we get. The song is rooted in the silky-deep tone of the guitar but nothing is really as easy-breezy as the mellow sound implies. Listen to how the opening riff starts away from the tonic—a subtle jar to the ear—and then to that tiny rhythmic hiccup it offers at 0:06.
The whole song is like that, its mellifluous surface masking twists and misdirections. The central melody—languid, descending, black-note-dominated—recycles equivocally through a song that doesn’t seem to have either verses or a chorus. Lyrical lines are typically repeated, and long stretches of wordless vocals are employed, enhanced by silvery choral layers. And then, approaching the song’s midpoint, a new lyric starts, without repeats this time, which has the effect of making the lines stand out more rather than less. It feels like we’ve arrived at the song’s unexpectedly powerful nucleus (“You don’t trust/You won’t love/Nothing will ever be good enough”), the backing vocals now emerging in the worded section too, and before the mind can quite absorb this development, Johansing glides back into a repeating line (“You can find a balance, achieve a balance”), the echoey but disciplined backing vocals now get to sing their first actual word (“balance!”), and the effect is almost startling. Soon after, the opening riff returns but with the guitar’s tone rubbed raw and harsh (2:11). There is more going on in this song than a casual listen will uncloak.
Johansing is a San Francisco-based singer/songwriter who has been involved in a number of Bay Area projects, including the bands Geographer and Honeycomb; she is currently, also, half of the experimental folk duo Yesway. “Enemy” is from Johansing’s second solo album Grand Ghosts, which was self-released at the end of February. You can stream the whole thing, and purchase it, via Bandcamp. Meanwhile, over on her SoundCloud page, two other songs from the album are available for free and legal download. Thanks to the artist for the MP3.