Enon — “none” backward; one letter removed from Enron; a city in Ohio; a rock band — but not another precious indie-pop band.
Enon is a torchbearer for a time when rock ’n’ roll was a bit more stylistically slippery, when roots and influences converged and found multiple voices — even within the same band. When the Talking Heads were actually on the radio. When Pavement actually mattered to people, Sonic Youth talked in dissonant tones about a Teenage Riot and Devo was a viable cultural phenomenon that allowed the spud boys to be scoffed at while being absorbed into the cultural bloodstream.
Enon is that kinda band — one not afraid to be earnest, avant-contradictory and urgently poppy at the same time; lighthearted on the surface with crucial, pulsing undercurrents of darkness and angst. In a better world, the band would rule the airwaves. But we’re on earth and they’re from Brooklyn, N.Y. (via Dayton, Ohio), and the airwaves are not ours anymore. We’re just going to have to spread the word ourselves.
When it comes time to play, Enon employs as many lo-fi electronic gewgaws as guitars; as much left-field sound scraps as earnest (if feverish) lyrics; as much careful craft as chaos theory. The members arrive at a sound that’s as sonically idiosyncratic as it is seemingly simple (and sometimes hookier than a tackle box).
“I always talk about ’80s radio because video broke a lot of things that maybe wouldn’t have ended up on the radio and there was so much crazy stuff going on,” says Enon vocalist, guitarist and main man John Shmersal. “That’s sort of why a band like ours says ‘What’s so weird about this?’”
A look at Schmersal’s curriculum vitae finds him, a half-dozen years ago, as the guitarist for and one of the sonic forces behind the late, great electro-spazz rockers, Brainiac. So “weird” is a relative term.
Schmersal has a pragmatic approach to his musicultural heritage and Brainiac’s rabidly loyal fan base, in particular.
“I haven’t had anyone say ‘you ruined it, you ruined it all,’” he says. “I certainly feel like it’s a continuation. [But] the way I feel about people that were hardcore likers of dissonant, more challenging music that feel unexcited by the pop in this band is that I was tired of making music that was that dissonant.”
With Enon — and as evidenced on the band’s latest full-length, High Society in particular — Schmersal and company have taken a wide-ranging, earnest, artful approach to breaking down the rock ’n’ roll animal.
“We’ve been trying to be more ‘opposite’ about it. We’re such a technology driven band that it’s taken us a long time in different instances to set up and do our shows,” notes Schmersal.
“We’d show up at a place and if it wasn’t the kind of place for something complicated, we could strip down. We’ve been practicing being a rock band and an electronic band at the same time.”
This flexibility has paid off as far as he’s concerned.
“You become used to using certain instruments to play certain songs. This way, you kinda start flying by the seat of your pants. But at the same time, it’s supposed to look easy. People aren’t supposed to say, ‘Look at all the technology they’re dancing around!’”
High Society starts in skronk and guitar distortion and ends in cello strains and whispered vocals. In between, Shmersal shares vocal duties with bassist Toko Yasuda (whose pedigree includes service with both Blonde Redhead and the Lapse) delivering dark, pomo lyrics that take angular swipes at a culture of consumption and the scary dimly lit corners of our consciousness.
“I’ve always liked bands that successfully marry those two things: The content vs. the music,” says Schmersal. “We knew we were making a more pop [sounding] record and the dark content was just there.”
“The whole thing is about selfishness in general. Without being too heavy or anything, that’s the thing that’s drawing through each song. It’s kinda a dark record.”
“The world’s a sad, unforgiving place,” he says with a chuckle. —Chris Handyside
Enon will perform with the Natural History and the Bloodthirsty Lovers at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit; call 313-833-9700) Saturday, May 25.E-mail Chris Handyside at firstname.lastname@example.org