This time Menomena take aim for the heart as well as the head.
Chris Lo 2010-07-27
Menomena are a tricky proposition. With three albums already under the Portland three-piece’s collective belt, their music is still mislabelled as often as their name is mispronounced (it rhymes with “phenomena”). Although nominally covered by the nebulous indie tag, Menomena’s sound often encompasses progressive rock, freeform jazz and ambient electronica in a single stride. The band’s democratic songwriting process, in which all members contribute and share vocal duties, is kept in check using Deeler, a software programme developed by Menomenite Brent Knopf to allow members to pick and choose individual parts within a defined time signature. Welcome to 21st century jamming.
2007’s much-lauded Friend and Foe introduced a wider audience to Menomena’s sonic experiments, but while the album was a masterclass in musicianship and arrangement, its dense reams of sound tended to appeal more to the head than to the heart. Although fourth album Mines, released three years after its predecessor, retains Menomena’s trademark virtuosity in production, here the band’s complex, monolithic sonic structures are supported by a consistent emotional foundation that elevates the songs to new heights.
Regular fans needn’t fear that the band have replaced their eclecticism with Kings of Leon-style arena rock. Every song is a flowering microcosm of its own, building seemingly disparate elements up into an astonishingly comprehensive whole. The almost unbearably beautiful Tithe opens with chiming percussion before a warm wave of piano rolls in, followed by yearning guitars and layered vocals. BOTE initially echoes the nervy baritone sax of Friend and Foe’s Air Aid before pirouetting off into a thunderstorm of slide-guitar and tumbling percussion. The album’s swirling vortex is anchored by classic-in-the-making Dirty Cartoons, which showcases how far the band has come in orchestrating emotion. The track’s thrilling climax is a masterstroke of set-up/knock-down writing, and even manages to make steel drums genuinely affecting, which is nothing short of miraculous.
Mines is a creative achievement on a level with TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain. Their past collections may have proved Menomena’s technical skill and abundant imagination, but their latest effort ought to propel them to the very forefront of independent American music.
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