Album of the Week: Frank Ene ― No Longer

Album of the Week returns with a look at Frank Ene's debut solo effort, 'No Longer.'
By    August 3, 2020

Will Schube was born in the darkness.

Charting Frank Ene’s transformation from the screaming bassist in Fall of Troy, to the ominous front person for Pure Bliss, to his new project, doesn’t make a ton of sense on paper. The through line isn’t really there, rather, something zigs and zags and climbs up mountains and down valleys. Somewhere in the middle lies Frank, whose new solo album is an astounding and wonderful new direction of focus from one of the Bay Area music scene’s most important figures.

Ene has played with Myles Wymond and Fresh & Onlys (Wymond also plays guitar in Fresh & Onlys), two steady presences in the scene that have brought the jangly ecstasy of the region’s sound to a nationwide stage. With Pure Bliss, though, Ene’s darker, louder side came through, as he helped pen bristling post-punk jams equal parts icy and ferocious. When that group dissipated earlier this year, Ene went into self-imposed isolation, only to be joined by the rest of us a few months later. The result is No Longer, a six song debut that world builds so thoroughly and so completely that any escape is impossible until the record loops back and begins again.

There’s something both intensely personal and unsettlingly mechanic about Ene’s solo music, as if late-era Johnny Cash sang over a drum machine and your favorite karaoke instrumental. The effect is chilling but riveting, giving Ene’s music a brooding force that rarely lets up and is oddly comforting in this summer of hell. According to the singer-songwriter, he sort of blacked out while writing the sadder songs, removing himself from the equation and letting the words reckon with themselves. That feeling of distance permeates the album, in part because Ene sounds like a combination of Cash, Tom Waits without the cigarettes, and an American Nick Cave, barely ever lifting his voice above a low rumble. Like those legends, the otherworldly nature of his voice can occasionally cause a gap between his experience and yours as a listener. It’s fascinating. His vocals just lie there, waiting for the perfect lapse in melody to attack, brimming with a range of emotion before quietly settling back into the rollicking repetition of drum patterns and basslines.

The Nick Cave comparisons are probably least likely to quit, because there is something eerily similar to what Cave does here, but Ene’s voice is almost always flattened by a lack of space. Even when the instrumentation is sparse―which it often is―Ene sounds claustrophobic; broken and deflated. On a song like “Drown,” the drums are clearly recorded on an acoustic kit, but still seem looped and repeated. It’s a strangely enchanting effect, especially as sparsely played, brimming piano chords envelop Ene’s chorus of, “drown, drown, drown.” This is music for the latest hour of the night, when it’s all but assured that light won’t be sneaking through your blinds anytime soon.

The music almost sounds sampled from another world, from a wasteland in which the only things on TV are late night commercials and ads for running shoes: two feet running across a sweltering desert floor. Take the guitar line on “Flesh in a Womb,” which rarely deviates from its base structure and immediately lodges itself into the other aspects of the song like a dive-bombing pelican headed straight for a fish. It’s almost aggressive in its repetition, circling and eventually swallowing the drums, the few struck piano keys, and the bassline that threatens to coil around the guitar part before getting its head bit off like a snake.

There’s a Western twang to everything here, but it’s used purely as an accent, allowing Ene’s voice to take on a villainous growl or a sympathetic edge, depending on what fits the accompanying themes. Few albums can so completely envelop the surrounding world like No Longer does.This may be an intensely personal experience, but very little else seems to exist when the opening drum pattern of the title track cues up. Remarkably, Frank Ene has spent most of his career as an accompanying member of various groups. Here, though, his demanding and precise vision is on full display. No Longer has emerged from the darkest corner of his shadow and taken center stage.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!