Touch And Go
By: Eric Greenwood
I found out that I'd been pronouncing Enon incorrectly when John Schmersal introduced his band at a live show recently. "Hi, we're 'E-nun'", he said- emphasis on the long 'e' with no attention paid to the second syllable whatsoever. I found his pronunciation puny and submissive. "E-NON" (with emphasis on both the long 'e' and the 'non'- the way I'd been saying it all along) sounds so much more authoritative and commanding, not to mention futuristic and cool.
I mention this only because its capsulizes the dichotomy of Enon's stage presence versus its musical intensity. In between songs, Enon is mousy and diminutive, but as soon as a song like "Old Dominion" starts with its raucous, retro-rock riffs, the band transforms into a wildly frenetic and intense spectacle. Schmersal rants and writhes whether he's holding his guitar or just messing with his box of effects. Such showmanship is unexpected after a painful plea for a place to stay that it almost seems disingenuous.
Enon's second album, High Society, thrives on such unexpected and off-putting juxtapositions. It's a dilettantish amalgamation of retro-futuristic pop, classic rock, and new wave deconstruction that, despite its deliberate awkwardness, sets out to redefine the concept of the pop record. No song gives away any clues as to what's lurking around the next corner, and that sense of anticipation threads High Society together like few albums in recent memory.
The addition of Toko Yasuda (Blonde Redhead, The Lapse) on bass and part-time vocals has kicked open the new wave door that Schmersal had only peaked through on Believo!, the band's debut (which, incidentally, featured a completely different line-up). Yasuda's voice is stereotypically girlish and innocent. The campy female Japanese vocal trick is almost a cliché in indie rock these days, but Yasuda has some undeniable songwriting chops under her belt that should silence the jaded scenesters ready to dismiss anyone who dares to repeat what's supposedly already "been done."
Schmersal's weirdly verbose compositions butt heads with Yasuda's sleek, bouncy pop, but both share dark edges that make the flow of the record more logical as it plays on. The aforementioned "Old Dominion" kicks off High Society with fists flailing. The meaty, 70's riff meshes perfectly with Schmersal's versatile voice. He bends a falsetto and a whiny brashness around the calculated pauses in the rock to create the year's strangest retrofitted anthem. Yasuda's "In This City" couldn't be more contrary with its static propulsion and warm synthetics.
"Window Display" adds a rotten ingredient to Enon's highly unscientific formula. Sounding like The Lemonheads on a particularly uninventive day, Schmersal strums a jangly, straightforward pop song with a cheesy chorus, leaving a very bad aftertaste. For a moment I thought I was listening to Freedy Johnston and almost switched off the stereo. "Native Numb" overcompensates for the previous song's weaknesses with too much studio trickery and too little substance. "Leave It To Rust" puts High Society back on track, though, bringing Devo, The Cars, and Sonic Youth to mind all at once with its dead pan vocals and subdued, staccato guitars.
Yasuda's infectious, candy-slick "Disposable Parts" is a driving, danceable pop gem that will be stuck in your head all day long. The way her voice matches that masterful keyboard hook is just too good. Schmersal trumps Yasuda's finest moment with a flash of his own brilliance on "Natural Disasters", which is arguably the album's catchiest song. Schmersal's squawking guitar bits seem odd at first, but the vocals are so intuitively fitting and memorable, as they synchronize perfectly with the song's mounting, eerie tension, that you can't help but sing along.
High Society expands upon the hurried schizophrenia of Schmersal's previous band, Brainiac, elevating songwriting to the same level of experimental deconstruction to both the detriment and advancement of the band's core sound. Schmersal's overreaching ambition still probably outweighs his songwriting talents to a degree. There are just a few too many missteps on High Society to heap blind praise on it, but it's clear that Enon is headed in the right direction.