Review By: Ric Hickey
Now in their tenth year, Menomena’s new release is the culmination of an amazing decade by any standard. Based out of Portland, Oregon, Menomena’s accomplishments include countless critical accolades and even a Grammy nomination for “Best Recording Package” for their 2007 release Friend & Foe . Having scored film music and collaborated with modern dance troupes in addition to a busy touring and recording schedule, it is clear that there is much more to Menomena than what one might expect from even the most ambitious Art Rock ensemble. It is their monumental sense of ambition that puts Menomena ahead of the pack in their creative endeavors, but it is their phenomenal music that is sure to continue garnering loads of acclaim for them.
Mines, the band’s new CD, is fairly exploding with diverse emotions and arrangements that seem geared to reveal surprises around every corner. Yet the record holds together with an uncanny cohesiveness. This achievement is all the more amazing when you think of how that accomplishment eludes many of even the most experienced bands when their primary goal is to craft something cohesive.
The opening track, “Queen Black Acid ”, is a deceptively chill introduction. It’s lightly chiming guitar and tip-toeing bass line are soon joined by a booming kick drum that resonates with mischievous confidence. A plaintive, introspective vocal soon turns to psychedelic confessional when it’s unexpectedly joined by a jarring and dissonant guitar line. Two long feedback squeals from the guitar after the first chorus feel like an emotional purging, a sonic cleansing executed with primal noise. This abstract method of conveying deep and troubled emotion with raw sound is no easy feat and bands that can do it are rare. Menomena pulls it off at about the two minute mark in the first song on their new record.
That amazing opening tune is mostly chill but with the second number Menomena launches into glorious noisy weirdness. The pounding drums, frenetic guitars and yelping vocals of “Taos” are soon compounded by a fiendish string section and horns. The overall affect is erratic and bizarre yet oddly compelling. It doesn’t repel as random, thoughtless weirdness would. Instead, Menomena creates an innovative set of intricate and inventive rules all their own and lures you into a strange, new sonic world.
“Dirty Cartoons” mixes a chanting, hypnotic chorus with unexpected twists and turns in the rhythm, layers of percussion and somber piano chords – not just a beautiful song but also a brilliant piece production that invokes crushing loneliness and a world weary sense of longing.
With their deft command of dynamics, balancing both melody and dissonance, Menomena unleashes bleating horns and guitar blasts that leap in and out of the frame like crazed characters from another movie crashing a wild sonic party. Here and there the groove drops out all together, only to reveal layers of murky and mysterious sounds that are lurking just beneath the surface, undulating and creating counter rhythms that you didn’t even know you were hearing. When they bring the beat back, it feels Menomena is the wildest, most unpredictable dance partner you have ever known and you won’t want the night to ever end. Their sound, while predominantly soothing and inquisitive in nature, with a swirling side of big beat head rush, charmingly flips the listener around like a happily stoned ragdoll in a hurricane.
Listening to a truly great album should feel like being submerged in a totally different realm, like entering into another world for the duration of the record. Menomena’s Mines does this with friendly aggression, effortless grace, and sly humor. This record is like a heated rooftop swimming pool at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. You know why you’re here. You’d be crazy to not just jump right in.
The band makes an August 9th appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and their US tour begins in September.