ABOUT THE RELEASE
Over the last assemblage of Other Houses singles and EPs, Morgan Enos has been attempting to execute the power pop of his dreams.
When the project transitioned from lo-fi to hi-fi in the 2020s, the lodestar was Jon Brion’s Meaningless, or perhaps Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2 — both at the vanguard of the early 2000s “unpopular pop” scene.
With a couple of exceptions — like the four-song 7” Twins Who Fence, released on Aagoo Records in 2021 — these releases were barely meant to be “product.”
Enos is five or six years into a career in the music industry; he’s the Staff Writer at GRAMMY.com, and covers the New York jazz scene (and beyond) via his weekly column at LondonJazz. The daily churn of release cycles left barely any time for, or interest in, inserting himself into the equation. Firing off two songs to support a cat rescue shelter was enough.
Now, Enos has fired up the Other Houses moniker once again, for a new EP: Didactic Debt Collectors, out on Aagoo Records on July 7.
Didactic Debt Collectors’ five songs — “Captive Audience,” “Jacket’s Creed,” “Drab Vocabulary,” “Arc of the Arrow,” and “Swine Among the Relics” — were completely self-recorded by Enos in his tiny home office in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Lyrically, compositionally and production-wise, Didactic Debt Collectors amounts to a eureka moment — not only for Enos as a one-man song factory, but for Other Houses’ amalgam of the singer/songwriters he loves: not only the aforementioned Brion and Mann, but Robert Pollard, Gary Louris, Billy Corgan, Judee Sill — the list goes on.
But once Enos took those evolutionary steps, something unexpected happened. The results weren’t bright-eyed and bushy-tailed — like past tunes like “Stock Character” or “Lower School,” which mask acidic commentary beneath gleaming melodies and harmonies.
No, something about Didactic Debt Collectors feels dark and unglued — a reflection of Enos’ intense, self-critical nature, as well as the onslaught of life changes he underwent in recent years. If Dark Beatles was the flavor of the month 20 years ago, when many of the aforementioned acts were ascendant, Enos still views this as worthy territory to mine.
Opener “Captive Audience” pairs a simple melody with a brain-twisting, perspective-warping lyric: “But then, I’m increasingly leaning toward the ceiling/ Of a paucity of feeling/ Of tearing to the dry cleaning.”
But while Enos may have opted for Guided by Voices-style lyrical opaquity in the past, “Captive Audience” is rich with distinct personal meaning — despite Enos’ still-intact penchant for rolling around in shades of language.
Simply put, “Captive Audience” is about the tension between Enos’ past and present — the inner struggle between projecting oneself as a sanded-down professional or indulging their manic, irreverent, potentially off-putting side.
“Jacket’s Creed” sums up a period of a few months where Enos found out a loved one’s life was, in fact, not in peril: rather than celebrate the happy news, the emotional inertia sent him reeling on the cusp of his 30th birthday. Full of dramatic ebbs and flows, the music mirrors this just as the lyrics do.
By the tongue-twisting outro chorus of “Jacket’s Creed” (“Scene time/ Is the lean time/ At the same time/ It’s a scream/ Planck time/ Is the best time/ Like the last time/ It’s obscene,” the tune is caked with noise, of a legion of overdubbed voices splattering the stereo field.
The title of “Jacket’s Creed” is a nod to jazz fusion greats Yellowjackets, whose sophisticated yet deeply comforting discography helped pull Enos out of this tailspin.
Lead single “Drab Vocabulary” is the oldest of the bunch, one that sat incomplete for years. A conscious attempt to marry Robyn Hitchcock with XTC, “Drab Vocabulary” is a song about writing, and the triumphs and trevails of a professional life as such. But there’s far more beneath the surface.
“It’s also about the stories about ourselves we absorb as children,” Enos explains. “The final verse is permeated with innate self-belief that I’ll take to my grave. That I didn’t accomplish anything of value before this — working in the music industry, putting down roots on the East Coast — even though I know in my heart that’s false.”
A smouldering pile of acoustic guitars pushed into the red, “Arc of the Arrow” provides as clear a glimpse into Enos’ psychology as any; there’s nothing hazy about the meaning of “I’m blinded by expertise/ I don’t know what I believe/ I’m your fall guy/ I’m your attack dog.”
“When I began dealing with music historians on a weekly basis, that ratcheted up my insecurity regarding what I know and don’t know,” Enos reveals. “Which is a toxic brew when combined with my existent imposter syndrome and anxiety over the role I play in other’s lives.”
The final chorus of “Arc of the Arrow” is a balm to the agitated verses: “Realize, and heed, assign the essence of this mire/ Submit your comment envelope to the catacombs of accidental fire/ It burns the same as the competition’s distant and dispassionate outliers/ You’ll only taste the taste of failure if you stop trying altogether.”
Closer “Swine Among the Relics” is a summation of all of the above, but from a chilly, distant perspective — including a three-word sidebar on 2020s censo- riousness and sanctimony: “Sentenced layman/ Reeducation.”
At the end, Enos locks into a one-chord krautrock vamp, much like he did on 2021’s “Twins Who Fence,” where dissonant guitars uneasily lock into each other. “All these years later, I can’t get Sonic Youth out of my guitar brain,” he explains. “I’m not one one-thousandth the guitarist that Thurston Moore or Lee Ranaldo are, but nonetheless, they live in my brain.”
These days, Enos is feeling much better than he was when he wrote these songs — but they stand as a monument to where he was at — in essence, Didactic Debt Collectors is about the spiritual crisis that can come with turning 30.
Didactic Debt Collectors also marks something of a crossroads. Will Enos continue as Other Houses, a project name he adopted in 2012, from here? Either this is as far as he’s willing to take the band-not-band, and he’ll go under his own name, or he’ll continue on another set of dark, noisy pop/rock sounds that take this template to another extreme.
But for now, Didactic Debt Collectors feels like a culmination — Enos’ most introspective lyrics, set to his most extroverted music. On all five tunes, the darkness is real. But so is the doggedness, and the assurance that one will make it through.