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Hocus-Pocus is the sort of album that, in the old days, would have made up for 10 bad consumer choices. The songs are strong out of the gate, but they also have staying power. You can turn up the volume and bounce around, put it on as background music while pruning the mesquite tree, or enjoy the stereo separation while spacing out to your headphones. And, unless you have had a particularly strong dose of coffee or some harder substance, there's a good chance that you'll let the record play to the end. This is what the critics who complain that Enon's records aren't sufficiently cohesive fail to see. The album's variety is not a problem but a solution. It responds to the crisis in the music business the only way that will work, by making a record that people will truly want to own.
Comparing Hocus-Pocus to Enon's previous album High Society, Schmersal describes the new record as "way more stripped down. We were on a time constraint. We had a bunch of touring to do, and if we wanted the record to come out in the fall, we needed it to be done by April. But I felt the time constraint was really useful. It seems like, with computers, everyone says, It's so easy now. You can do multiple takes and all this stuff.' And then what people end up doing is just having too much stuff to look through, instead of taking more of the purist approach where you have to rewind the tape, but, at the same time, you get the good take and you know it's the good take instead of going through 30 sections of a part or something. We tried to be kind of punk about the way we did stuff and just, you know, get it and decide that was that."
Hmmmm . . . he said "punk." When most people think of punk, they still picture a fast, loud, simple guitar band. The electronic treatment of vocals and instruments has long carried an aura of preciousness, at least in the United States. But that perception is starting to change.
Schmersal's first band, the greatly lamented Brainiac, which dissolved after lead singer Tim Taylor was killed in a car accident, helped to lead the way. Enon does an admirable job of continuing the mission. You feel it most in the fuzzy logic of the rhythm section.
"I'm pretty picky with the programming sound," notes Yasuda. Yet it's the integration of Schulz's live drums that really makes the difference. "If I write a song with a drum machine," she continues, "we'll give it to Matt and jam. And then when we're actually making records, it's all about how you can make it sound natural. Mixing is very important for that."
Schmersal concurs. "The whole organic vs. digital thing is something we were experimenting with at the end of Brainiac," he says. "Recently, someone was asking Thom Yorke why so many rock bands are afraid of electronics and he said, I don't know.' I sort of feel the same way. It seems like people are afraid of their stuff sounding really cold. But there's a way of using electronics that can be really organic and warm-sounding."
Yasuda chimes in: "And fun!"
It's no accident that Schmersal's choice of gaming consoles comes from the era when computers were breathing fresh air into the music business, not suffocating it. Above all else, Enon songs recall the years between the Sex Pistols and Van Halen's "Jump," between the debut of the Apple II and the dominance of the IBM PC. It was an era when home computers were still a hobby and musicians were proud to include drum machines in their album art and videos.
Back then, using computers struck the sober-minded as more trouble than it was worth. But the extra effort computers required made them a passion. As we ride out the major labels' perfect storm, it will be wise to recall the futurist optimism of a time when making the computer "Man of the Year" wasn't an ironic prank.
And Enon has the ideal soundtrack for the journey, because they know how to turn nostalgia into hope.