- Piano men: Ennui, live at Pianos in New York City
Through seven years of changing lineups, stalled major-label ambitions and drastic sonic evolution, Jim Doutrich has remained the primary creative engine and stabilizing force for Pittsburgh-based electro-pop group Ennui. A Philly transplant who moved here eight years ago, the classically trained multi-instrumentalist ushered Ennui's growth from the piano-driven Brit-pop of its 2004 debut Inchoate EP to the slick indie rock of 2007's Cry EP, produced by Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron and Wine).
Doutrich and Ennui's process for their first full-length album, 2008's The Myth in Which We Live, turned sharply away from their previous methods and influences. The result was a hyper-produced, Italo-disco-infused electro-pop record that sounded little like the band's previous output. The album was a labor of love that took almost two years to complete and confounded any label interest with such a radical change in direction.
Doutrich's changing perceptions of his own music coincided with Ennui's schizophrenic persona.
"While writing and recording The Myth, the priorities started to shift," Doutrich says. "If there's anything different about now compared to where I was [before the Inchoate and Cry EPs], I don't care about anything else but the music I'm making. Would I still want to tour and be successful? Of course I do, but I don't think about it anymore, it's nowhere near the drive for me."
Now, Doutrich and current partner-in-crime Sam McUmber (of Mariage Blanc) are gearing up for the March 18 release of Formation of Tides, their first album together under the Ennui moniker. Tides is yet another bold step, moving away from the dense, techno tapestries of The Myth toward the arena-ready prog-rock of mid-'70s Pink Floyd and Low-era David Bowie.
"It was a result of the last album, which was such a studio project, something that can't easily be produced live," said Doutrich. "I wanted this album to be something that has a live-band feel. We were playing these songs perfectly at shows before we ever went into the studio."
The majority of Tides' songs were recorded a year and a half ago as raw, guitar-driven demos; Doutrich and McUmber spent the better part of 18 months adding layers and mixing tracks in their home studio. The result is an album of dreamy psychedelic pop, as ethereal as The Myth was electronic and angular.
Splashes of The Myth's dance music ("We Are Young") still exist on Tides, along with Giorgio Moroder-inspired production flourishes (the bouncing synth line in "Coconino" easily recalls "Take My Breath Away"). But Doutrich can't help but be more concerned with the next stage of Ennui's transformation.
"As far as my process goes, it's ever changing," he says. "Before I've even finished an album, I feel like we are ready to go in a different direction. The way I am, it takes me a significant amount of time to look back and say, 'Oh, I'm proud of what I did.' Because now, even looking at [the just completed] Tides, I just want to improve as a musician and change what I'm doing."
Ennui Album Release with Michael Ice and Gangwish. 10 p.m. Fri., March 18. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $5. 412-621-4900 or www.brillobox.net