While normally I have little trouble drawing comparisons to other bands that remind me of the one I’m reviewing, I have to admit that Menomena and their truly individual style has me straining for comparable works (The Dismemberment Plan, The Flaming Lips, and the instrumentals of The Paper Chase are as close as I can come). The unique three-piece from Portland originally stole my attention back in 2007 with their third album, Friend and Foe—an amazing work of breathing, layered experimental indie rock—and I’ve been clamoring for more ever since. Now, after spending a majority of the last year in numerous studio sessions, Menomena returns to us with their fourth full-length release, Mines.
Mines finds Menomena taking what appears to be a more heavily produced format than their previous releases. While the unique layering and timbre of their prior works remains, the songs are less nebulous and more structural. By no means is this a bad thing; quite the opposite in fact. Mines bares the polish of a group focused on refining themselves. If the last three years were spent composing, tracking, mixing, and perfecting this album, then so be it. It was worth the wait.
A major point to note is how the members of Menomena compose and arrange their songs. Using a loop layering software called Digital Looping Recorder (or shortly, Deeler) that was created using MAX by band member Brent Knopf, they’re able to compose each movement of the song piece by piece. It’s clearly shaped the way the band creates its unique, multilayered sound. Having the ability to loop a riff, beat, rhythm, or tone upon demand, and then move said pieces around within the song or to other songs is what gives Menomena the freedom and ability to expand a song beyond its own boundaries. I can only imagine how much of the album’s creation was spent on this side of the process. Moving, arranging, splicing, re-arranging, etc…it’s no wonder the album took such time to make. The end results, however, are well worth whatever time, toil and turmoil the band, the album, and its creation may have been fraught with.
Photo by: Alicia J Rose
Mines in its entirety is truly a fantastic, layered musical journey, though there are several standout tracks that just hooked me.
“Queen Black Acid” begins the album, and if played immediately after listening to Friend and Foe, acts very fittingly like a bridge to the new album. I absolutely love the verse and the separation of the guitar (hard panned to the right channel) from the drums (hard panned to the left) with light accents floating from channel to channel, swelling the separation together for the chorus, creating a full-spectrum spread. Their use of distant choral doubling, echoing down the halls, is captivating.
“Dirty Cartoons” is possibly my favorite track on Mines. From the vocals and the above-mentioned echoed doubling to the layering of the guitars and that crunchy bass so prominent in the middle of the track, this is the anthemic album track. It floats, it weaves, and it makes me lose myself in the song. The strength of this song is its depth. It is densely layered, but so clear and precise in its presentation that it’s impossible to ignore and is a true standout on the album. I also find something strangely Aboriginal about the instrumentation glimpses that back the track.
“BOTE” has a finger bleeding bass guitar line that drives the song in and out of a frantic energetic pulse, allowing the keys to create a gap that, when broken by the baritone saxophone and later the squealing guitars, creates a fantastic energetic tension. Late in the track, the backing instrumentation has a stuttering mute-toggle effect that stole my attention upon first listen. I cannot stress how well Menomena uses its extensive layering to build sections of the song to crescendo and tear other sections down to the bare minimal, creating instrumental focus.
Photo by: Ben Moon
Menomena has assembled a beginning-to-end, track-by-track gold-mine of cerebral, multifaceted, layered experimental indie rock. Mines is a must buy, and if you’ve never had a chance to hear Menomena, now is the time.
Menomena Tour Dates:
07/27 – Portland, OR at Music Millenium
07/28 – Seattle, WA at Easy Street Records (Queen Anne)
09/10 – Seattle, WA at Showbox at Market
09/11 – Portland, OR at Crystal Ballroom
09/14 – San Francisco, Ca at Great American Music Hall
09/16 – Los Angeles, CA at El Rey
09/17 – San Diego, Ca at Casbah
09/18 – Tempe, AZ at The Clubhouse
09/21 – Boulder, CO at Fox Theatre
09/22 – Omaha, NE at The Waiting Room
09/23 – Minneapolis, MN at Varsity Theater
09/24 – Madison, WI at High Noon Saloon
09/25 – Chicago, IL at Metro
09/27 – Cleveland, OH at Beachland Ballroom
09/28 – Toronto, ON at Mod Club
09/29 – Montreal , QC at La Sala Rossa
09/30 – Boston, MA at Royale
10/01 – New York, NY at Webster Hall
10/05 – Philadelphia PA at First Unitarian Church
10/06 – Washington, DC at 9:30 Club
10/07 – Carroboro, NC at Cats Cradle
10/08 – Atlanta, GA at Variety Playhouse
10/09 – Nashville, TN at Mercy Lounge
10/11 – St. Louis at St. Louis at Luminary Center for the Arts
10/12 – Lawrence, KC at The Bottleneck
10/14 – Denver, CO at Bluebird Theater
10/15 – Salt Lake City, UT at Urban Lounge
10/16 – Boise, ID at Neurolux
For more info on Menomena, visit: