PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Enon: Hocus Pocus

David Antrobus

Enon

Hocus Pocus

Label: Touch and Go
US Release Date: 2003-09-09
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Enon make music as gaudy and as busy as their record sleeves. Their roots are in such radically diverse sounds (Brainiac and Blonde Redhead, among others) that they must continually straddle a sonic highwire, neither toppling into streamlined pop on the one hand, nor into zany geek rock on the other (or, on a different day, mercurial synth pop and spastic garage rock). And this Brooklyn-based trio is getting better at this precarious act all the time.

John Schmersal, formerly of Ohio's Brainiac, provides the brains (ha!) and the wacky energy, not to mention voice, keys, and guitars. Toko Yasuda has brought her smooth voice, keys, and bass guitar from a stint with Blonde Redhead. Matt Schultz (formerly of the Lab Partners), meanwhile, is credited with batterie (percussion) and legerdemain (sleight of hand). Ha, funny guys, clearly.

The balance achieved on Hocus Pocus is the band's most even yet (coming as it does after 2000's frenzied, unhinged Believo! and 2002's more focused High Society). This increasingly taut and successful fusion of jerky art-punk with a prettier synth-pop sensibility can almost certainly be attributed to Yasuda's growing prominence in the band. Somehow her butter churn voice manages to sound both girlishly winsome and sensual, and it is one of the keys to Enon's unique sound.

The other, of course, is songwriting. This is an assured collection of songs, for which both Schmersal and Yasuda can take equal credit. That they alternate writing/singing duties pretty evenly throughout the record somehow doesn't distract. The former leans toward quirky anthemic pop-rock with a distinct UK feel, while the latter adopts an equally playful, more beats-oriented, electro-pop -- along the lines of Cibo Matto, or even Le Tigre. But however accurate these descriptions may be, they remain the map not the territory; the overall feel of the music is far less conscious and coldly delineated than the legend might suggest. Enon are no bandwagon-jumpers, incidentally, even if they're not the only New York area band currently paying tribute to '80s new wave. Tweaking and teasing novel sounds from synths has been Schmersal's obsession since his days with Brainiac (sadly curtailed in 1997 by the auto-accident death of frontman Tim Taylor) and Enon's current lineup appears not only supportive in this regard, but whip-crackingly enthusiastic.

A dizzyingly prolific diversity is Enon's template. Ranging from the warm electro-confectionary (not without mildly unsettling background dissonance) of Yasuda's dual-tracked vocals on opener "Shave" (played loud, I defy those goosebumps not to break out) to the Spanish guitar and "Bug in the brandy / Baby / Drunk on the candy of you", irony-free romanticism of the closing title track (which itself doesn't stay still long enough for such glib categorization, featuring as it does an incongruous magical mystery interlude as brief as it is startling), this thrift store collection is bright and tacky and fun, yet never pointlessly stupid.

"Murder Sounds", from this year's In the City EP (released back in June), is fleshed out here. Yasuda's narrative-nuanced verses overlay a tightly-melodic-yet-groove-laden post-punk bassline, while Schmersal's jagged, treated, Fred Schneider-like chorus of "She said please stay close / I'm gonna be right back" briefly intrudes, before the song blooms into an exquisitely bittersweet boy-girl dialogue ("I could be thinking of you when you are gone / 'Cept the whole damn world has just come undone") that's astonishingly beautiful in context. Schmersal rips a page (Page?) right out of the Jack White guitar-brat handbook in the opening bars to "Storm the Gates", which could have been another skewed anthemic rocker if it weren't for the intruding strains of psychedelic-era Beatles-isms that, if not quite derail, at least sidetrack it. Yasuda's voice on "Daughter in the House of Fools" is disarming, ducking and weaving with endearing dexterity between the robo-dance rhythmic thrusts and parries; trapped in a ring of confusion, eroticism, anxiety, avidity.

"Mikazuki" is a moment, midway through, of exoticism and reflection, Yasuda dripping honey in Japanese, accompanied by labelmate Nina Nastasia's viola player Dylan Willemsa on a lilting perfumed interlude.

Initially, "Candy" is exactly what you'd expect -- Schmersal's straight-ahead mellifluous vocals merging with Yasuda's bubblegum chorus ("Candy... candy...") -- until it swells surprisingly passionate and urgent, heavy with the sudden ache of love ("Each way I turn / My senses burn / I taste your kiss all over the world"). Like the earlier "Murder Sounds", the initial bobbing dance of pretty flotsam, gorgeous in itself, briefly makes way for something more substantial beneath the surface; a needier, darker, circling thing, barely glimpsed.

Everywhere you look, there's something for you. Want rhythmic, semi-glitchy dance-oriented pop? Try "Monsoon". Want melodic/angular XTC-meets-Spoon, sugar-sprinkled seizure-rock? Give "Utz" a spin. Want more straightforward indie rock? Sample "The Power of Yawning". You get the idea. This yard sale has only the good stuff. Somehow all 13 songs fit, unified in their disparity by an infectious sense of abandon and fun, but also by a counterintuitive hidden thoughtfulness -- as if someone went and draped gaudy, multi-hued scarves over something more solid and unexpectedly heartfelt.

If I had to pick a standout, it would probably be "Starcastic", in which an elastic bassline gleefully bounces Schmersal's and Yasuda's increasingly hysterical voices on its taut surface, like a trampoline juggling alarmed children. The tension between crisp precision (beats) and messy careening abandon is palpable.

But this dizzying, enchanted carpet of twisted pop songs really ought to be heard all-of-a-piece, as Enon prattle and dance -- jerky and breathless and sweet -- while managing with clumsy exuberance to weave and stitch something magical from leftover pieces of torn and impossibly garish cloth. Hocus Pocus indeed.

Simply, one of the year's best.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.