Hocus Pocus

(Touch & Go; 2003)

By Scott Reid | 3 September 2003

A friend once asked me why it was I wanted to review albums and, as they put it, "waste my time complaining about albums no one will ever hear on a website that no one ever reads." Rational opposition had never stopped me from arguing before, so I took the bait. Trying to explain that it was to share great music with those who might not otherwise hear about the albums, especially scenes which are habitually ignored. "But then why," he asked, "do critics enjoy tearing apart albums so much? Why are some of the funniest and well written reviews seem the most sadistic? Why the preferance of witticisms over actual constructive criticism?"

True enough, us critics do seem to sporadically enjoy digging into an easy target or wet-behind-the-ears newbie. We can easily justify it as "warning others to not waste their time or money," but it really comes down to a devilish charge that comes from merciless jokes and hyperbolic statements that turns music reviews into an entertainment art form and not just an opinion or guide to an extremely subjective art.

But in most cases, at least I can speak for myself here, negative reviews end up being confessions of disappointment from bands we had honestly come to expect more from. I'm not interested in using this site to take an album that may only get press coverage from our site and tear it a new asshole just for the sake of having some fun at an unknown band's expense - no one is going to want to read about how bad an album they would've otherwise never heard about is, no matter how funny we try to make it. There's really no reason to bother.

However, we tend to get especially harsh with independent bands that give us an album or two (sometimes many more) that we attach ourselves to, and for this there is a slightly more reasonable explanation: those of us that will spend the time and energy to track down these (semi-) unknown bands are, for the most part, easily attached to great bands and albums due to our inherent love of great music. The indie scene is full of those of us that enjoy talking for hours about cathartic albums or, also in many cases, list albums/songs/album covers/singers/whatever we can possibly discuss in a critical way. It becomes a lifestyle anchored by our favorite bands and since we come to rely on them for the continued feeling that draws us back to the chore of finding the next great band, great album or even great song that will somehow reaffirm our (arguably) silly love affair with music.

Take Enon, for instance. After the death of Timmy Taylor - leader of the seminal indie spaz-rock Brainiac - John Schmersal and his new band released their spastic debut, Believo!. Less an individual statement than fine indie rock with a heavy dose of Brainiac-related ideas from Schmersal which cleansed his palette for the band's first real statement as more than just a quirky Brainiac side-project with High Society. Suddenly bringing up Schmersal's past seemed slightly asinine and lazy, as very few moments on High Society echoed what he'd previously done - in fact, it took the best elements of Believo! and, with new member Toko Yasuda (of Blonde Redhead fame), added a saccharin-sweet pop heart to many of the album's best tracks (most notably "In the City" and "Shoulder," though the Toko-less "Window Display" is possibly the most impressive pop song of the lot).Suddenly the band had arrived as a bona fide entity all its own, something few of us had expected from Enon.

Which is probably also what is most disappointing about their third album, Hocus Pocus. The variety and promise of High Society is all but ignored for a rushed set of songs that, even with (and perhaps due to, who knows) an increased focus on Toko's pop leanings, fail to build any momentum whatsoever. Even during the album's best songs exists a sense of unfulfilled promise and extremely rushed songwriting.

The album opens up with "Shave," an easily forgettable song that starts harmless enough and stays that way, never really go anywhere. "The Power of Yawning" is a vast improvement and, no surprise, sounds like it could've easily been on High Society. Quick, to the point and wonderfully infectious, it unfortunately has few peers on the record. So with the momentum of "Yawning" comes "Murder Sounds," an awkward "duet" that, like most of Hocus Pocus, really doesn't go anywhere besides banal repetition of boring ideas that they're already pulled off with much better results.

And it keeps going like this. Mildly entertaining sections chased quickly by easily forgettable b-side fodder that could've been just another group of web-only songs the band has been dolling out over the past year. "Starcastic," "Daughter in the House of Fools" (by far the album's catchiest track), "Spanish Boots" and "Candy" offer brief excitement, but, with the exception of "Daughter," would still be amongst the middling tracks on High Society.

So do I "enjoy" spending time and effort complaining about an album that very few people will actually hear on a website that maybe ten people (thanks, guys) have read? Not without some "clever" quips at Enon's expense, I won't. So they call this album Hocus Pocus but the only thing remotely magical about it is how much it sucks. There we go, now I'm having a good time.