07|07|09   A Maze and Amazement / WNUR Airplay Show review

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

The following album review was written by C.T. Heaney and originally published on WNUR’s Airplay Show blog on the 7th of April, 2009.

Many musicians come to America to find their audience; some have to leave its shores for England or continental Europe to reach a dedicated fanbase. Few of them pack their bags for the South Pacific for the sake of their careers, but Mark V. Roberts, alias The Enright House, has done just that. He began his career in Chicago but headed for New Zealand a few years ago, where he released his debut LP A Maze and Amazement and did several tours. A Maze and Amazement is a delicate yet expansive effort, incorporating healthy amounts of ambient atmospherics and programming alongside guitars, vocals and live drums. Its constantly shifting textures and stylistic variation make it a lastingly rewarding listen, one that most review sites seem to have missed when it was first issued in 2007.

A Maze and Amazement’s leadoff track, “Scattering the Sun Like Gunshot”, begins with an extended instrumental passage brimming with windswept sadness, and it comes almost as a surprise to hear the subdued vocals enter relatively late in the piece. Sounding just a bit like a stoned Jim Kerr fronting Explosions in the Sky, “Scattering” fuses ‘80s British indie and pop with recent-vintage post rock, and given the somewhat anthemic tendencies of both styles, it’s a wonder that the combination is not heard more often. “We Might As Well Have Stayed Young” is a lost slowcore classic, glacially marching onwards with a simple yet haunting melody and ending with a memorable closing line: “We might as well have stayed young / For it’s been useless to grow older”.

While most of the tracks on A Maze and Amazement feature vocals, the record takes many of its cues from groups that work primarily in the instrumental realm. “Darkwave Equals MC Squared” is more Album Leaf than its titular genre, hewing more to the soundscapes Jimmy Lavalle explored on the Into the Blue Again release than to the Cure-inspired electronica of Projekt-family bands. “Up” and “Do Re Mi” both echo the sadly gone Telefon Tel Aviv, featuring warm, atmospheric electronics accompanying sometimes-live, sometimes-processed percussion and Roberts’s quiet, shoegazey vocals. “A Car Facing Mountains” feels like an instrumental piece, even though it has no long instrumental passages; Roberts evokes the structure and slow-building passion of Tristeza and Unwed Sailor while compellingly grafting lyrics onto the substrate. “Solitaire” and “Remember the Stillness” introduce spoken-word female vocals, provided by Mary E. Jones (who is also the cover artist). The former features Roberts singing above Jones’s oration, while on the latter she speaks on her own; both tracks include extended sections of wordless, sung vocals which ache with bleak beauty, shattering the stoic solemnity of the spoken-word passages.

New Zealand may be where Roberts found his muse, but due to its geographical circumstances, it has a very insular music scene, and Kiwi groups rarely see success internationally (Crowded House excepted). Now back in the United States for a nationwide tour, Roberts is finishing up a second full-length, but his debut was sorely overlooked and deserves a wider audience.