Wednesday, July 28th 2010
Mines, the fourth full-length release from Menomena, comes nearly four years after their last album Friend And Foe, which broke the Portland trio in the indie scene. The band has made mention of “brutal disagreements” and bandmembers’ external relationship struggles as the cause of the downtime between releases and largely e-mailed collaborations to build the record, and so it would only fit that the resulting product is a complex, powerful and conflicted affair.
The devil – and the glory – is in the details on Mines. In order for Menomena to work at all, a more intricate harmony is necessary within the group that’s so publicly strained; all three members sing, and shift instrumental roles with blurring regularity, so the constructs and holes of their chemistry appear slightly more transparent in the sound. Just as with their prior work, the trio utilized a homemade program designed by member Brent Knopf to record and arrange instrumental loops. Mines makes it clear that it helps to have a computer nerd in the midst, building bedrock of loops and beats before adding color with guitars, keys and progressive, percussive schizophrenics.
Moving from nuanced, melancholy minor chords to unexpected power grooves and spastic percussion bursts, Mines is all over the stylistic map, and its unpredictability is a weapon that enhances each song within a piece. The first two tracks stand solid as general selling points, but the album is riddled with and defined by subtle gems that sink tiny hooks in the heart.
Delicate, melodic and passive-aggressively naked, opener Queen Black Acid sets the album on an deceptive course of spacial accessibility, particularly in the straightforward percussion.
“I don’t know how I missed the signs / I must have passed by them a hundred times / You barely notice what I say / You’re busy looking ’round the room instead.”
The sentiment is hardly subtle, the delivery evoking a strange sense of what Coldplay might’ve been like had they done a few more drugs and had some bad relationships. Following, TAOS swings from buzz-fuck wailing rooster strut to gentle-breeze sunshine melodies in a way that’s delicately captivating and caressing one moment, bombastically anthemic the next.
It’s a suitable precursor for Killemall, a crime-noir suspense trip that builds on an acoustic bass groove with flourishes of keys before shifting to an odd sort of looming Ben Gibbard apprenticeship.
Dirty Cartoons opens on a slow-step acoustic stum that builds to heart-twisting earnestness amidst a sobering, dramatic drum presentation. Each “I’d like to… go home… go home” intensifies with repetition, evoking a cold Autumn rainstorm feeling of homesickness. Meanwhile, Tithe opens with nearly a minute and a half xylophone tinkering before conflicting piano and guitar set the stage for a melody with Us-era Peter Gabriel flare, eventually buoyed by urgent, skittering drum beats.
It’s an assault, a percussion concussion introduction that BOTE presents, with raucously swaying, cascading rhythms and siren-groove riffage that rips at the guts and tickles the frontal lobe.
Oddball baritone sax standout Five Little Rooms was characterized by the band as either the best thing they’ve ever written… or their worst. To the contrary, it’s a middleground track that’s only truly off-putting by the pronounced McDonalds call out. Hookless, there’s a delicate power to the song and that holds gravity, though the morose lyrics don’t help us find an anchor. But damned if it doesn’t demand repeat listens.
As the pieces come together through multiple spins of Mines, as the gears come into clearer view and the intricacies further unfold, the quality standard of Menomena’s work leaves one torn between hoping they’ll forge through the issues that caused a nearly four year gap between albums, and embracing the tension that spawned such promising work.