When a recording artist hits upon something unique, there’s a natural tendency among fans and critics to want to see that uniqueness packaged, sealed, and efficiently reproduced. We love to hold our favorite bands to a standard operating procedure, even if that means stifling artistic growth.
But here’s the great thing about Enon’s landmark 2002 album, High Society: There was no standard operating procedure. Band leaders John Schmersal and Toko Yasuda delighted in weaving together all of the disparate subgenres that fit under indie rock’s big tent. As the group gleefully danced between crunchy garage rock, icy dance music, and orchestral pop, the result was a record that kept listeners on their toes, not knowing what sound might pop up next. But after releasing a misfire in 2003’s Hocus Pocus, the members of Enon sport a back-to-basics approach on their first album in four years. Made up almost exclusively of hard-charging, fuzzed-out punk jams, Grass Geysers . . . Carbon Clouds gives us just a slice of what Enon is capable of producing. It may be petty and irrational, but I wish they could just return to the smorgasbord approach that made them so distinct in the first place.
That’s not to say that Grass Geysers doesn’t strut its stuff to the fullest. The first three-quarters of the album never lets up, playing like a high-speed ride to oblivion. Stellar opener “Mirror on You” takes Spoon’s brand of rhythm and soul and sexes it up something fierce. With its infinitely reflecting backup vocals, snappy handclaps, and infectious, scuzzy bass line, “Mirror on You” serves as the perfect little nugget to kick off the record. “Colette” follows it up strongly, with an uneasy push-and-pull rhythm and stinging guitar strikes.
From there, however, it’s a journey of diminishing returns. Schmersal gets his sci-fi B-movie rocks off with “Dr. Freeze,” and stripped-bare rockers like “Piece of Mind” and “Those Who Don’t Blink” thrash away for the sake of thrashing. At the same time, it’s impressive to note just how far Yasuda has come along as a vocalist. Once used as just a token signifier of Asian sex appeal, she gets a more equal share of the spotlight this time around. On mid-album highlights “Law of Johnny Dolittle” and “Pigeneration,” Yasuda asserts herself as a captivating foil to Schmersal’s unhinged whine.
The album closes with a pair of botched science experiments that perhaps reveal why Enon has chiseled away the more willfully weird elements of its sound. The epic noise of “Labyrinth” and woozy atmospherics of “Ashish” both feel out of place, concluding the album with a question mark where an exclamation point would have felt more appropriate. The challenge for Enon seems to be striking that balance between eclecticism and being listenable. It’s hard to say that the group took the safe route with Grass Geysers, because it’s such an exhilarating listen. Perhaps it’s an unfair standard, but as past albums prove, this band still has some muscles that it’s not flexing here.