Posted on July 14th, 2011 (11:44 am) by Bradley Hartsell

Ambient indie pop is the tagline that follows around Pittsburgh’s Ennui, and I’d have to say it’s a pretty accurate term. They have too many pop manifestations to be thrown into chillwave, dream pop, or twee. Ambient is the best way to describe the unmistakable haze draping over the music, thanks to the bright, bubbling synths pushed up way high in the mix and reverb vocals. Right down to the album cover, in what looks like a bleary ‘70s photograph—precisely the washed out picture you’d expect to grace a cover of music like this—this is an aesthetic Ennui takes very seriously. Their sophomore album thus shows a band immersing itself in its own sound.

Ennui take the better parts of '80s synth pop and turn them into a self-serious work. Guitars and bass are part of the ensemble, including what imagine to be a lot of fucking reverb and delay pedals. The album never feels "electronica;" it always maintains a pop outlook, even as synths are blaring arpeggios and whitewashes all over the music. My passing line criticism, as simplified as possible, there aren’t any great songs here. I can’t imagine specifically wanting to spin any of these songs again by the sheer will of impulse. However, this album still works so well because Ennui somehow avoid the biggest sin in ambience: instead of Formation of Tides playing like one long haze, there’s variance in the songs—actual moments of distinction! There are up-tempo songs like “Step Out of Your Suit” and there are slow burners like “Upstream,” complete with various riffs and tones to open songs, almost like a blinking light flashing "NEXT SONG". The diversity and the steadfast commitment to making shimmering indie pop is a contrast in song craft, exceeding the limitations of these songs taken by themselves. It’s that quality which allows basically every song to soak itself in minute and a half outros, letting the haziness marinate on the listener. If the songs were endlessly one-note amblings, it would come off as contrived listlessness, but instead they seem like the REM sleep period—the payoff, whereas most songs would use another chorus.

“Balance of Motion” and “Lights” is the brightest spot in the album, with the back-to-back strength of the songs briefly showcase a potential for great songwriting. All of the songs are good, none are great, but these are the two itching the hardest to rise up to the level of greatness. Both songs mix the quality of good hooks with the identity of Ennui’s sound, whereas the other songs were certainly using pop sensibilities but not particularly memorably at all. “Lost/Falling” is kind of the poster child for the bulk of Ennui’s output, which is pleasantly relaxing, rich, and painstakingly detailed, but the vocals and structure are wildly slippery, unable to be grasped or molded into a hook. In a way, Ennui, while I’d tell you they were good (see the score to the right of this paragraph), is quite frustrating, more so than a good band would usually expect to be. You want to shake their hand for breaking free from the lifeless drone most of their doppelgangers are reduced to, but you also want to smack them and ask why couldn’t they placed more character and/or melody into these songs who clearly could withstand the weight of a pop infusion. With Formation of Tides, however, you have to take what’s presented to you, not ask so many what ifs, and acknowledge an engaging album where one exists.

Track List:
1. The Battle I’m In
2. We Are Young
3. Walk (Heaven Slow)
4. Coconino
5. Ralph
6. Upstream
7. Step Out of Your Suit
8. Balance in Motion
9. Lights
10. Lost/Falling
11. On the Shelf

Ambient pop refreshingly free of drowsiness.
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

73 / 100
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