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High Society

(Touch & Go; US: 4 Jun 2002)

In Enon, indie rock stops staring at its shoes and turns up the synths, the grooves, and the volume. The CD comes out of the gate with “Old Dominion”, a fuzzed-out love child of Black Sabbath and David Bowie. As they trip through a kit bag of styles, you’ll sit up and take notice.

Enon was founded by John Schmersal, guitar player for Brainiac. After a handful of independent CDs, Brainiac was poised on the brink—they had a nice label contract in the works—when their lead singer died in car crash. Schmersal moved from Ohio to New York and started over, hooking up with the rhythm section of Skeleton Key, a band that never went quite as far as some expected. Schmersal began making synthetic sounds of all sorts for a rollicking kitchen-sink sound on their first record, Believo!

The lineup morphed for High Society, retaining just Schmersal and Skeleton Key’s bang-on-junk percussionist Rick Lee. The addition of Toko Yasuda (formerly of Lapse and Blonde Redhead) on vocals, bass and synth brings a new sweetness to their sound. By the time they began touring with this record, Lee had left he band in the vastly capable percussion hands of Matt Schultz.

This jigsaw-puzzle lineup could sink a band, but Enon’s rubbery style stretches so everything fits. Dig-it rhythms are underscored by synthesizers driving then tinny, trilling and groovy. Schmersal’s vocals are thin and strained, but malleable: in “Pleasure and Privelige” his manic near-shouting is oh so Devo, but he whispers like Elliott Smith in “High Society” and croons like Bowie all over the place.

And while they may be individually all over the map, each song holds together complete and unique. The kickoff, that explosive “Old Dominion”, blasts with commanding, saturated rock. Here the guiding hand of recording engineer Eli Janney (Girls Against Boys) may show the most strongly—to good effect. The heavy guitars and pummeling percussion are loaded with both a sexual drive and rock ‘n’ roll fun.

The straightforward “Window Display” is so fully realized it sounds like it’s already been a radio hit. And so does “Sold!”, with perky and swirling synths hitching a ride with a simple guitar line.

When Yasuda is on the mic, the tones are clear and sweet, and her slight Japanese accent is positively charming. “In This City” glides on a low-key groove. “Shoulder” lurches along with slow hot-and-bothered rhythm, sparkling with a bright array of synth intrusions.

“These days we sound more like a band,” Schmersal says. “More straightforward, more rock.” Which is absolutely true, but relative. If you listen to a lot of Korn, the rock won’t sounds very hard; if you love Paul McCartney’s post-Wings work, you’ll be thinking “wacko” in place of “straightforward”. But for those who are cozy with Beck or Girls Against Boys or the Flaming Lips, Enon makes a hell of a lot of sense.

This CD was ready for release by their previous label (SeeThru Broadcasting) which suffered an untimely demise. Some time passed before things worked out with Touch & Go, leading to the lineup change. “I have always preferred bands that try to do something different with each record,” Schmersal says. Not only can we expect more of something different from the next record; what you see on the road won’t be quite High Society, either. But judging by the band’s trajectory, odds are wherever they go, things will just keep getting better.

Tagged as: enon
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