Menomena - Mines
Steven Morgan 08/09/2010
Oh Menomena, how I love thee. Or so I thought, or so I still think, maybe? I think so. Yes? I'll admit. Ramona Falls had left me confused. Sorry, I know this review hasn't gotten off to the most cohesive start, but alas this is a tough one to write and much like the album itself has taken time, perspective and confidence.
Ever since I first laid eyes on their utterly grotesque webpage, I knew I was in love with Menomena. It was a good job that their album I Am The Fun Blame Monster happened to be a creative, wonderful exploration of disjointed genre hopping ideas, stark contrasts between beauty and emptiness delivered in a way somehow so unfamiliar, yet not obtuse. I was confused. I was excited! I needed to know more. I raided the internet's cupboard to discover more and found out about Deeler, their customised loop program that almost acted as a forth member in their writing process. A digital looper that allowed them to utilise micro editing and sonic leaps more associated with dance music which they subsequently reimagined in a more traditional musical format. Like an organic skin on a robotic core. A fucking cyborg. This wasn't just excitement, this was full geek awe.
Note that I haven't even mentioned the songs yet writing these words stirs those initial feelings of excitement taking me back to the days when my Menomecherry was still intact. "I am fused out of iron, I am". The dropout of the vocal refrain of Strongest Man In The World still sends shivers down my spine. Menomena is the fusing of three incredible talents, all more than capable of creating wonder in their own right working together to create something special.
Justin Harris, the seeming leader of the three if the proportion of vocals is anything to go by brings the menacing bass tones delivered through the Moog Taurus and the baritone saxophone, two defining features to their unique sound. What's notable about the inclusion of the saxophone in their music is its place in the song writing not merely as a production afterthought used for the sake of quirk. As is the way with the songwriting of Menomena, every instrument at every moment is integral to the composition of the song. No flourishes to fill in the gaps where imagination was lacking, just a sack full of purposeful ideas bursting at the seams.
All of this should naturally leave me excited at the prospect of a fourth Menomena album. As is hardly surprising for a band with as much screaming talent as this one, there were problems along the way with its creation. Timing conflicts with the want to write new material saw Brent Knopf grow increasingly frustrated to the point that he established his own side project in the name of Ramona Falls. Without realising it until this point, I really liked Menomena, but it was the input of Brent that I was in love with. As I listened to that album, it was like the pivotal scene in Fight Club where the retrospective realisation came to me that my favourite moments throughout those three Menomena albums were those due to the delicate fragility Brent. The soaring beauty of Rose, the tender scarring of My My, the heart-in-mouth moments of the chorus of Wet & Rusting. Here was a man whose combination of piano refrains, captivating songwriting and one of the most heart wrenching voices I've ever known had completely enthralled me. Such was the extent of my love for this music that not even swine flu stopped me seeing them when they came to London (I almost passed out on the tube, but it was worth it).
So almost a year after this, I hear that Menomena are ready to release their forth album. With the creative precision of IATFBM, the gorgeous, complimentary instrumentals of Under And Hour and the more focused yet still captivating charm of breakthrough album Friend And Foe, I wondered where they could go next. Whilst I still had no doubt of the talents of these three men, for the first time I wasn't so sure if the world needed another Menomena album. Then I heard Mines.
The first point of note was that there was no radical departure here. No leap into a different dimension or skin to become something completely different, instead what they've created is their tightest collection of songs to date. The choppiness of their earlier compositions has mostly been replaced with more traditional song structures, segueing more organically into the end results than that which precedes it. Most notable of all is the fact that more than ever before it sounds like a collaborative effort, particularly surprising considering the troubles leading up to it's creation.
The album begins with the gentle bass notes of Queen Black Acid, a great start from a band who know all about the impact of great opening tracks. Though unlike Muscle 'N Flo or Cough Coughing before it, there's no bombast here, this is a gentle intro into a more coherent, more accessible album than what has come before. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is the band's warning to expect the unexpected. Then TAOS kicks in with its loud disjointed rhythms and bombastic guitars, throwing you off the scent once again. It's one of the few upbeat numbers on the album and the one that harks most back to their more frenetic alchemistic compositions. Surprisingly though, it's also one of the weakest songs on the album, highlighting the differences from the band they once were and are now. It stands no chance against the heartbreaking wonder found in the tracks that surround it like Killemall and Tithe. It's on this album perhaps more than the others that Menomena have identified the moments where they're most effective and display a more focused contentment within those boundaries.
Once again though, it's a Brent Knopf moment in the closing track I Never Thought I'd Lie that leaves me with a lump in my throat as its tender defeatism brings things to an end with the same lyrical darkness that underlies the entire album. Its lyrics captured me at an unhappy time where I drew parallels to my own personal situation, reducing me to the teenage behaviour of repeating the track over and over until I its effect was spent and I realised the pathetic nature of my actions. I don't feel particularly proud of mentioning that comparison, but when truly great music blurs the lines between your imagination and real life actions even as a supposed grown up it's notably overwhelming. Only at this point did, I realise the true appeal of Menomena and finally felt ready to write this review. The thing that sits above the back-story, above the witty mailing list emails, above the sprawling positivity of the press release. What makes them great is the impact of the contrast which they manipulate and utilise so well. Ramona Falls may be an incredible focus on the talents of Brent Knopf, but his childlike delivery is at its most effective when sat next to sounds so relatively alien. Without the darkness you can't distinguish the light, long may they continue.