Philadelphia’s Enon largely fail to deliver with their latest, Grass Geysers Carbon Clouds. After releasing five records in a six-year period, the band took three years to come up with Grass. However, much of the work of singer/guitarist John Schmersal, singer/bassist Toko Yasuda, and drummer Matt Schulz still comes off as half-baked attempts at various styles that are better done elsewhere.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t shining moments on Grass – just not enough of them. The record actually opens on a high note, with “Mirror On You”, some nice, dark, techno-dance-funk, punctuated by repeated, reflecting shouts of “Mirror!” and hand claps. But later dips into this well deliver steadily diminishing results. “Sabina” has some neat wa-wa guitar effects in the background, but never grows beyond that. “Dr. Freeze” has a good, but not amazing, bass line, which is stuck with unimpressive overlays and vocals from Schmersal. “Law of Johnny Dolittle” is supposed to be dark techno-rock fun, but doesn’t really win over, and has an annoying chorus.
Any indie band that employs a young, female, Japanese singer, even for only half of its songs, will inevitably be compared to the likes of Blonde Redhead (for which Yasuda briefly sang) and Deerhoof, often inappropriately, but here the comparison is both apt and telling. For too much of Grass, Yasuda’s vocals are too ‘Asian cute’, too Deerhoof, not enough Blonde Redhead, such as with “Colette” (which is semi-saved by some strong rock guitar distortion from Schmersal) and “Labyrinth”, whose attempt at ‘story-telling epic’ give it an almost Rush-like feel. And even at their better moments, like the following, and finishing, “Ashish”, Enon is still only a poor man’s Blonde Redhead – not the worst thing to say about a band, but shouldn’t be their high point.
Stabs in other musical directions are even more unrewarding, with one notable exception. “Paperweights” comes through with a really good, driving bass, subdued vocals and guitar, haunting keys, and an excellently delivered chorus line of “Everyone thinks the town looks better.” But “Piece of Mind” doesn’t quite make it as a try at southern-fried driving country-rock, with a decent, pressing refrain never overcoming Schmersal’s too snarky-smart vocals. The upbeat garage push of “Those Who Don’t Blink” is all speed, no substance, fast and forgettable. And the high, emotional, but also whiney Generation X takedown “Pigeneration” just grates – though it does sort of fit its subject, in that way.
Almost a decade old, Enon still hasn’t quite figured out who they are, and the four-year break between records hasn’t helped that. Are they a dark, techno-funk-based band? Are they a distorted, Japanophile noise-rock three-piece? Are they a poor man’s Blonde Redhead, or a simplified Deerhoof? Are they Philadelphia, or just displaced New Yorkers (The New York Times profiled the group’s move to the other side of New Jersey, after being priced out of the Big Apple, as a representation of Philly being “the sixth borough”)? Whatever they might be, they haven’t found it yet.