Quick, name your favorite B-sides/non-album tracks/odds and ends collection album. Not so easy, huh? If you can think of one, it’s almost certainly by one of your favorite bands. That would be quite logical, because why would you spend money on an album of leftovers unless it’s by one of your very favorites?
So when considering Enon’s latest, Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence, it’s probably best to look at it from the viewpoint of someone who’s already a fan, because this is certainly not the starting point for anyone looking to be introduced to the group. Any of their three proper albums—Believo!, High Society, or Hocus Pocus—would be more appropriate. Better yet, just go for 2002’s High Society, which was the first one to feature former Blonde Redhead bassist Toko Yasuda and achieved the perfect balance of the group’s many sounds: off-kilter bleep rock, glossy synth-pop and guitar-driven indie rock. For Enon fans, the simple fact that this album collects all of those hard-to-find 7"s and Web-only tracks—in addition to a bonus DVD featuring videos and live footage (not included with this promo copy for review) should be enough to please them.
The history of Enon has been well-documented, but since this album draws from each stage of the group’s incarnation, it’s a handy way of tracking its history. First, the back story: Flashback to 1997. Dayton, Ohio’s Brainiac are a hot commodity in the music industry, and for good reason. After a couple of albums and a handful of singles and EPs, the band perfected its spastic, electro-noise rock on 1996’s Hissing Prigs in Static Couture. Knowing full well that this could be the emerging sound of the coming millennium, a number of major labels wooed the band, with Interscope coming away the victor. Only a month after signing the deal, Brainiac’s charismatic lead singer, Tim Taylor, died in a car accident, bringing a halt to the career of one of the country’s more promising bands. A month later, Interscope released the debut album from Limp Bizkit, and a new unfortunate turn of the millennium sound was unleashed.
While Taylor was certainly Brainiac’s focal point, guitarist John Schmersal was just as instrumental in defining the group’s sound. Coming aboard in time for the sophomore effort, 1994’s Bonsai Superstar, he helped steer the band away from the noisy, but more-or-less straightforward proto-punk squall of their debut, and into a more adventurous, experimental territory. Instead of an unadorned guitar-bass-drums attack, Schmersal helped the group embrace electronics, sound collages and more fucked-up sounds in general.
After Brainiac’s demise, Schmersal recorded an album of largely acoustic and surprisingly tuneful songs under the name John Stuart Mill. It was around that time he first started using the Enon moniker as well, and the first output under that name—a 1998 single, “Fly South”—is present here. Schmersal was the only person to perform on the track, a dark, synthesizer-heavy dirge that is balanced out by his pleasant, almost-fragile voice.
The first real Enon lineup featured former Skeleton Key clanger Rick Lee in a role similar to the one Schmersal played in Brainiac; he certainly helped shape the sound if not necessarily the songwriting. “Marbles Explode” and “Party Favor,” the only two other tracks here before Yasuda’s arrival are rife with the junk-rock sound favored by Lee in Skeleton Key. Like much of the rest of this album, guitar isn’t much more than an afterthought here, as the songs are propelled instead by thick beats and found sounds.
While Lee and Yasuda were both part of the band around the time of High Society, it was clear that Yasuda had taken over the role of Schmersal’s main creative foil, and Enon was better off for it. While she was responsible for the album’s “hit” (the hypnotic, icy dance-pop of “In This City”) Schmersal also raised his game with the mid-90s indie-throwback “Window Display” and the surprisingly pleasing lounge-schmaltz of the title track. It was this all-over-the-place quality that made High Society so successful, and that’s what makes Lost Marbles a slight disappointment. Ten of the 16 tracks are from the High Society-era, but the diversity of sound is missing. Instead, almost all of the tracks fall into the offbeat, electro-pop category. Taken on their own, songs like “The Nightmare of Atomic Men,” “Drowning Appointments” and “Kanon” are all fine, but when there’s no change of pace, it’s easy to realize that the charm of Enon is that they do a lot of things pretty well, not one thing really well.
Yasuda plays a much larger role on this album, and while she’s responsible for the highlight, the bouncy, funky “Knock That Door” (a perfect companion track to “In This City”) her output is less consistently engaging than Schmersal’s. But fans will likely enjoy the opportunity to hear her take center stage more often, and that’s who this whole thing is for, anyway.
// Notes from the Road
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