02|24|09   A Maze and Amazement / The Silent Ballet album review

click to purchase album via CD BabyThe Enright House – A Maze And Amazement (A Low Hum)

When did nostalgia become so damn beautiful? I’ve never really had patience with the emotion, myself – spending too much time thinking about illusory, idyllic visions of the past (that was never really better than the present, anyway) has always seemed like a waste of precious time. But after spending some precious time with the first full-length from New Zealand’s The Enright House, A Maze and Amazement, I can’t be so sure. All I know is that once you step into the hazy world of past and present, fact and fiction conjured by the quartet, it’s difficult to differentiate between reality and illusion, and that’s just the way it should be.

The album opens with the post-rock influenced “Scattering the Sun Like Gunshot.” The tried-and-true beauty of the post-rock intro warms the listener perfectly for the dreamy album to follow. This is not a post-rock song, however, and rather than a crushing climax well-mixed vocals break in, allowing a temporary release of tension in the face of building repetition, and it works perfectly. The rest of the album breaks away into more dream pop and indie-related territory, but the album as a whole works like a quiet-loud track – repeating gorgeous themes and ideas until the final release on “We Might as Well Have Stayed Young,” a mighty finale that allows us an escape from The Enright House’s carefully-maintained world of nostalgia while justifying its existence.

A Maze and Amazement is a vulnerable record, but that only adds to its charm. When the vocals finally muster up enough confidence to push their way to the front of the mix, the reasons for keeping them hidden make themselves apparent. On “A Car Facing Mountains,” for example, the vocals seem like they’re trying far too hard to evoke sensuality, and the lyrics really don’t make up for it, while the rolling of the ‘r’ on the title track also fails to achieve its aim. These setbacks don’t hurt The Enright House too much, however – rather than being irritating, it comes off as rather charming, like the kid who tries too hard to get a girl who likes him already to go out with him. She’d go out with him without all the extra effort, but all the bumbling just makes her smile even more.

Special note should be taken of the use of spoken-word samples throughout the album, which are universally used to maximal effect, often contrasting with the lyrics to create a powerful sense of unreality. Longer songs like “Solitaire” and “Remember the Stillness” are crowded with elements vying for the attention of the listener, be it melody, lyric, or speech, but rather than collapsing under the pressure, all of these elements compensate for each other, creating a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts. Where the spoken word would be pretentious, the melodies sweep in and give the listener something to connect with, where the vocals would be weak, the spoken word comes in to detract from the lyrical dominance, and so on.

The Enright House haven’t crafted a perfect record – far from it – but the flaws of the record never detract from the experience the band has crafted for us. Any work that conveys any emotion as powerfully as this album does merits a whole lot of attention, and if The Enright House continues on this path, soon they’ll be pretty difficult to miss. Don’t let A Maze and Amazement slip under your musical radar – you’ll be sorry you did.

Reviewed by Zach Mills. Originally published by The Silent Ballet on 1/19/2008.