Enon, Hocus-Pocus (Touch And Go)

Enon - Hocus-Pocus Enon
Hocus-Pocus
Touch And Go
By: Eric Greenwood

For a band that has built its reputation on charging in unpredictable directions, Enon's third album feels strangely ho-hum and disappointingly underdeveloped. Last year's acclaimed High Society set the bar fairly high for Enon's spastic, schizophrenic pop confections, but Hocus-Pocus never makes good on the promise that album made. There are some good songs here, to be sure, but they're wedged between too many meandering, indistinct retreads of self-referential bombast.

"Shave" opens Hocus-Pocus in a haze of moody new wave. Toko Yasuda's girlish voice bobs gently above the den of squishes and synthetic pulses. It certainly doesn't grab your attention with its laid back atmospherics, but it's pleasant enough. Blah. John Schmersal's infectious "The Power Of Yawning" would have made a much better opener with its immediate hooks and lopsided production. His retro-power-pop delivery injects just the right amount of juice after such a woozy start.

As Hocus-Pocus unfurls, it feels more and more like the band is simply running in place. Schmersal's snooze-inducing "Storm The Gates" is a case in point. It's a jangly slow-burner that devolves into some sort of Beatles-esque tangent that goes absolutely nowhere, and Yasuda's hiccupping charm wears thin on the dragging "Daughter In The House Of Fools." The buoyant energy of High Society is nowhere to be found; Enon just sounds tired.

Finally, over half way through the album, Schmersal emerges from his hibernation on the aggressive (by this album's standards, anyway) rocker "Utz", but it's still only half as good as any of his guitar songs on High Society. "Spanish Boots" is another indulgent dud, but "Startcastic" shows signs of life with an effective vocal trade-off. Schmersal builds the tension in the claustrophobic verses while Yasuda shows some vocal prowess in the paranoid chorus, pushing her voice beyond that coy lilt she typically employs.

Flip-flopping between Yasuda's electro-pop and Schmersal's attention-deficit-addled indie rock, Enon pretty much sticks to the formula it perfected on High Society with no real conviction or advancement. I guess the band figured it had a good thing going, so why rock the boat? Indie rock fans are a fickle bunch, though. It's never a wise move to stand in one place for too long.

Murder By Death, Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them? (Eyeball)

Murder By Death - Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them? Murder By Death
Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them?
Eyeball
By: Eric Greenwood

Not only has the name changed, but the music has, too, for this Bloomington, Indiana quintet. The former Little Joe Gould sounds like a new band on its darkly thematic and stunning sophomore album. Where introspection, elegiac melodies, and meandering textures saturated its debut, now old-fashioned storytelling, compact songwriting, and thunderous crescendos dominate the band's apocalyptic sound.

Never having much liked the Little Joe Gould moniker, the band opted for something a bit more severe in choosing Murder By Death. How intimidating can you be with a name that sounds like a short Jewish man, anyway? And since this album runs a long narrative about how the Devil exacts revenge on a small Mexican town, a name like Murder By Death, though somewhat cheeky in its reference, should help sustain the suspension of disbelief.

The band's sound is breathtakingly huge. Urgent, pounding drums accent haunting, Cure-ish bass lines for a dynamic backdrop to vocalist/guitarist Adam Turla's gloomy Nick-Cave-by-way-of-Tom-Waits campfire tales. Turla's smooth, choirboy voice is rougher around the edges than before. Classical piano twinkles distantly beneath the mix while brooding, languid cello lines weave throughout it all. Your average indie rock fare, this is not. In fact, the band's only distant relative might be The Black Heart Procession.

Mixing esoteric religious imagery with old western themes, Turla unfurls a story so grim that it will very likely scare the vintage sweaters off the emo crowds it typically plays in front of, thanks to relentless touring this year with Thursday and My Chemical Romance. And, while unsuspecting crowds will likely assume the band to be some sort of death metal joke, the crackling urgency of its intricate and tightly wound cacophonies will stymie such postulations and easily convert new followers.

Lyrically, Murder By Death abandons its complicated, lovelorn angst in favor of songs about whiskey and guns and, of course, the Devil himself. This impersonal approach plays up the gloomy schtick of its reincarnation flawlessly, but, at the same time, it loses some of the charm that was inherent to the more reflective tracks off Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing.

The silly song titles that peppered its debut seem to have tapered off as well, which is understandable considering the band is trying to maintain a consistently downbeat mood, although a few slip by like "Killbot 2000", "Until Morale Improves, The Beatings Will Continue", and "A Masters In Reverse Psychology." The aforementioned "Killbot 2000" steals the spotlight early on with its spitfire verses and anguished choruses ("carry their little bodies/to the cemetery/so gently"), while the latter "A Masters In Reverse Psychology" is more resigned to the impending doom.

Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them? is less outwardly showy than the band's debut in that it never really flaunts individual members' extraordinary musical talents, but after a few listens it's obvious that Murder By Death has learnt how to pack its punches more discreetly. Its music is as powerful and intimidating as it is gentle and serene, always sounding as though some sort of hell-fire orchestra is playing beneath it. The songs seep into your skin and haunt you long after the record ends.

The Rapture, Echoes (Strummer/Universal)

The Rapture - Echoes The Rapture
Echoes
Strummer/Universal
By: Eric Greenwood

Despite what you'll invariably read elsewhere, The Rapture's sloppy, clanging post-punk rage is completely hit or miss, and this long-awaited full-length is the definition of anti-climactic. For every badass mind-fuck like "Out Of The Races And Onto The Tracks", there are twice as many unlistenable duds in the band's arsenal. Let's face it- Gang Of Four, The Rapture is not. The band's shrill and splintery guitars more so recall a shallower Bauhaus: high on Gothic histrionics, low on hooks.

On its ridiculously hyped new album, Echoes, the band allowed hipster producers, DFA, to reshape some of its signature tunes- a move that will go down as an egregious miscalculation for all the life it sucks out of the band's music.

The "re-worked" version of "Olio" that opens Echoes immediately rams a bad taste down your throat, as its guts have been ripped out and replaced with blockheaded 808 beats. The original guitar riff (found on the band's full-length for Gravity from 1999, entitled Mirror) was the heart of the song. Replacing it with stale techno schlock is just lazy, especially when the thinly-veiled Cure rip-off was barely interesting to begin with.

Luke Jenner's strained and painful wail, warbled yelp, atonal whine (you pick) is consistently annoying, yet sometimes he can misjudge the notes so badly that he accidentally strikes gold. As "Heaven" kicks in, the familiarly tuneless jangle funk is back, but when Jenner isn't losing his shit vocally (i.e. shrieking), he sounds like flat/bad Robert Smith Karaoke.

The monotonous piano ballad "Open Up Your Heart" is abominable from start to finish. Not only does Jenner sound like Chris Kattan's whinnying, nasally Azrael character from Saturday Night Live's "Goth Talk", but his lyrics pierce your eardrums with offensive cliché after offensive cliché: "when you're sad and lonely", for example. He should be fined for willfully dropping such excrement out of his mouth.

When The Rapture is on, it can trick you into believing all the hype, and "House Of Jealous Lovers" does just that. It's a clunky, post-punk disco ball, replete with bat-out-of-hell vocal yelps and stinging guitar jabs, and it escalated The Rapture to darling status amongst the trend-setting elite last year when it surfaced on the DFA-produced EP of the same name.

The band's musical references are admittedly diverse, pillaging everything from the ubiquitous disco-punk of Gang Of Four to the coke-infested glam of Bowie's mid '70's work to Robert Smith's showier death knells to calculated, programmed sleekness. It's all so safely tucked behind utter vapidity that no one can scoff and call it emotional. But for all the nerdy, arrhythmic kids that lap this stuff up as some sort of badge of hipness, profundity is not required.

Swell, Whenever You’re Ready (Beggars Banquet)

Swell - Whenever You're Ready Swell
Whenever You're Ready
Beggars Banquet
By: Eric Greenwood

Even in its heyday, which is now almost a decade past, Swell was always criminally ignored, except by the French for some inexplicable reason… So, a new Swell album released in 2003 will no doubt be met with similar apathy here in the United States. It's a shame, too, because Whenever You're Ready is too good just to be, well, forgotten again. Founding drummer Sean Kirkpatrick is back in the fold, and his presence makes Swell sound like a band again, especially after vocalist David Freel's laborious solo album released – somewhat misleadingly – under the Swell moniker just over two years ago.

Swell's charm has always resided in its sardonic marriage of resignation and apathy, which characterizes David Freel's voice perfectly. His deadpan delivery underscores Swell's acoustic neo-psychedelia and crisp hooks with cool aplomb. Freel's uncanny knack for stretching two chords in as many directions as possible, using rhythm and emphasis a la The Jesus And Mary Chain, is Swell's ace in the hole. Kirkpatrick's creative drumming takes Freel's arrangements one step further, though, making such simplicity sound truly alluring.

On the surface, Swell's music sounds lackadaisical and breezy- like a trip down the dreamy California tracks depicted on the cover art, but there's an undercurrent of nervous energy that binds it all together. "Next To Nothing" furthers Freel's longstanding obsession with religion over a deceptively jaunty hook, swirling keyboards, and hypnotic female backing vocals, "we tried faith/just to see how it looked/next to nothing." Sparse, distorted guitars chime in briefly and then disappear just as quickly as they came, as the song moves into its meaty, yet deliberately ambiguous hook, "yes, it was going to feel just fine/and it was going to be all right."

The playful strum of acoustic guitars antagonizes Freel's downtrodden voice, but they meet halfway to create a weird sense of tension on "War Comes Down", an unsentimental yet poignant look at the aftermath of some sort of horror, "lost in a sea of embraces/and I could see all the grief in their faces." The chirpy, acoustic patter of "Convince Us" sounds like it could have been lifted off Swell's quintessential third album, 1994's 41, while "So Easy, So Cool" glides through its laid back verses, threatening to rock in the choruses, as the layered, effects-laden guitars build to a minor upsurge. Weird edits and technological blips permeate the record as Swell reclaims its position as the most under appreciated band in the college rock pantheon.

If Whenever You're Ready has an obvious flaw, it's a lack of editing. With some songs stretching past the seven-minute mark, Swell has, perhaps, over-stayed its welcome (back). Fifteen songs are too much for any band to presume its listeners can swallow in one dose, particularly when your style is as minimal and simplistic as Swell's is. But an album packed with as many irresistible hooks as Whenever You're Ready deserves to be heard.

Erase Errata, At Crystal Palace (Troubleman)

Erase Errata - At Crystal Palace Erase Errata
At Crystal Palace
Troubleman
By: Eric Greenwood

Erase Errata has been riding a wave of hype since its debut, Other Animals, allowed crusty white kids that haven't the faintest idea how to dance a chance to take over the floor without shame for their collective lack of rhythm. Erase Errata's brand of art punk steals liberally from Gang Of Four's staccato Modus Operandi, and bands like The Rapture, Moving Units, and Radio 4 all dance to a similar un-beat. Why no one mentions Chicago's underappreciated noise rock trio, the Scissor Girls, when writing about Erase Errata, though, I do not understand, because the similarities are just too blatant to be coincidental.

On Other Animals Erase Errata teetered on the fence between a band that might not know how to play and a band that might have hit an artsy, no-wave bull's-eye. The general consensus is that the latter theory prevailed, although, I am still not fully convinced, as "atonality" is often misconstrued for "complexity." I can only take so much calculated affectation disguised as herky-jerky, unemotional hipness. It may be fun to dance to, albeit rather awkwardly, but, musically, it's a one-trick pony that runs out of steam in a hurry. Yes, it's got attitude. Yes, its nervous and thorny guitar lines prick up your ears with wiry, post-punk tension, but the punch is often lost in Jenny Hoyston's monotonous yelp.

The formula remains firmly intact for the San Francisco quartet's sophomore album. Brevity is, like, the soul of wit or something, and Erase Errata realizes its ability to hold one's attention may indeed be limited to just twenty-seven minutes, which conveniently is the running time here. The band has not lost its sense of spontaneity, often giving the feeling that the songs just popped into its members' heads, nor has it catered specifically to the dance punk trend. There is as much experimentation here as there was on Other Animals, for better or worse, but it shows that Erase Errata at least wants to be perceived as an experimental outfit. I imagine having a band like Sonic Youth tooting your horn, splitting seven-inches with you, and taking you on tour will provide you with enough bluster not to give a damn.

Yet, Hoyston's vocals seem rather inept when you consider that she doesn't play an instrument full-time. Were she churning out those twisted guitar arpeggios as well as singing, it might be forgivable and, maybe, even kind of cool, but she just huffs along in a hurried and pinched style that safely maintains some level of brash idiosyncrasy, befitting her band's angry, urgent blasts of bristling punk. Yeah, yeah, she blows into that trumpet occasionally, but that's like justifying The Blood Brothers having two singers pussyfooting around the stage because one stands in front of a keyboard from time to time.

At Crystal Palace begins with the klunky no wave sounds you'd swear you'd heard on every God Is My Co-Pilot release of the 1990's. The randomness of "Driving Test" quickly builds into a steady two note bass run, wherein Hoyston describes her near death experiences on the way home from work every day. "Ca Viewing" is instantly recognizable as Erase Errata with its spindly guitar legs and erratic beats, which is a feat in and of itself. The Slits receive a musical nod on the rhythm-heavy "Go To Sleep." But beneath all the off-kilter catchiness, quirkiness and aggression lies little of substance. This is just not music that will affect you, make you loyal, or rest atop your all-time best lists. It'll just make you dance. Badly.