Enon: Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence

David Malitz

This odds and ends collection might only please the group's most devoted fans, but isn't that the point?"


Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence

Label: Touch & Go
US Release Date: 2005-02-22
UK Release Date: 2005-02-21
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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.


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Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

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Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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