For the better part of a decade now, Menomena has been one of those great bands born of innovation and the passion to write uncommon music. Originally comprised of Justin Harris, Danny Seim, and Brent Knopf — all of whom play various instruments and share vocal duties — the band self-released their first album I Am the Fun Blame Monster! through online CD retailer CD Baby before quickly gaining the attention of the online alternative music press.
So when they decided to release their second album, Under an Hour, they had the option to take their music in any direction they wanted, but they ultimately decided to collaborate on three songs (each over seventeen minutes in length) with a local Portland-based experimental dance company called Monster Squad. The performance was divided into three acts with each part containing choreographed dances. Needless to say, it oozed artistic prowess, a prowess that continued to spread all the way through Menomena’s next release, Friend and Foe, which earned a Grammy nod for its artwork and advanced the group to a level of cohesiveness that was sonically unlike anything else happening at the time.
So by the time Mines dropped, people were starting to get excited about this new-age power trio from Portland. Their music was conceptually elaborate, and their ideas were uniquely refreshing, bringing almost a pioneer sense of style to each musical effort. But what I find staggeringly amazing every time I listen to a new Menomena album is the quality of the recording. Whether it’s done in a bedroom or track-by-track, instrument-by-instrument, bouncing between the members, the craftsmanship of their recording is amongst the top musical acts today.
Take “Capsule” off the new album, Moms. If you have ever recorded music before, you know that sometimes you’ll hear one part that takes the song to an entirely new level. In today’s modern mixes, the supplementary sounds made by playing the instrument are usually taken out, mostly for polishing reasons, but the end of “Capsule” is a perfect example of how the rules are sometimes meant to be broken. The sax echoes and delays, and that distinct sound of the woodwind keys click-clacking feels like a natural metronome, and for a minute, you forget why most people take these noises out.
Menomena also has that distinct advantage of writing lyrics that stick in your brain and repeat themselves over and over again. Between the sharp melodies and lucid metaphors, Menomena’s vocal department has always been right on par with the musicianship and recording, if not in some cases surpassing them, and this does not change on Moms.
Even with the recent departure of Brent Knopf, the band seems stronger than ever, almost as if Harris and Seim were out to prove that, while they will miss Knopf, he is not necessary for a great Menomena album. I believe they have fully gotten their point across with Moms.
“Heavy Is As Heavy Does” is a wonderful example. The insightful, sorrow-filled lyrics permeate the track, leaving you with the feeling of previous Menomena records, while Harris and Seim build a fantastic world of sound around the vocals. The song builds and builds into a crescendo that leaves you thinking “Damn, Menomena has gotten kind of heavy,” both metaphorically and sonically. This is an area they have always touched upon but never really delved into like they do with many of the songs on Moms. The overall vibe of the album is an uncompromising artistic vision of being able to sound like the three-piece band they were prior to losing one of their key members while still finding a way to advance their sound.
Whether it’s the Never Ending Story-sounding break in “Tantlus” or the 10-minute closer, “One Horse,” it is clear that Menomena will continue to passionately experiment with the sound they have been cultivating since the early 2000’s, leaving their fans with nothing but anticipation for a future release and possible addition to the lineup.
If you are looking for a band that has constantly proven to be amongst the top artistic visionaries of any genre, then you should check out Menomena’s new album Moms as well as the rest of their discography as this band doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon.
Make sure you catch Menomena on tour from now until early into December.