Review : Menomena - Moms
PitchforkWhat's worse: the encroaching feeling that something's going terribly wrong, or the fallout from the inevitable? On 2010's Mines, not much was going right for Menomena-- Danny Seim and Brent Knopf had just gone through divorces, and Justin Harris had seen a therapist for the first time. The band was hardly talking, their inability to communicate in a civilized fashion meaning that the record took over three years to complete. But as everyone knows, suffering can make for great art, and although Mines sacrificed some of Menomena's trademark compositional weirdness for comparatively melodic rock songs, it contained some of their most moving material to date. Opener "Queen Black Acid", written by Harris, was among that year's most devastating songs: "You're five foot five, not a hundred pounds/ I'm scared to death of every single ounce," concluding, "You bring me down... So down." It's easy to imagine the drums on Mines as knocks on gallows, the tension that of being forced to walk a plank with wrists bound, the fractured glimmers in fact the glint of sideways looks cast with suspicion.
Something had to give, and Knopf left the band. Seim and Harris figured out their communication issues, laying bare to one another their proposed subject matter for Menomena's first record as a duo: Seim's realization that he had spent more time alive without his mother than with her-- she died in 1994-- and the fact that Justin's mother had essentially raised him alone, his father a frequently flighty and difficult Vietnam veteran. It's not exactly the kind of thing that calls for balloons and party streamers, yet Moms largely eschews the weighty devastation of Mines for an unusually dramatic tone; the most notable example of which are Justin's saxophone parts, now more like fanfares than harbingers of doom. It's feasible that the record's bold sound might have been conceived to compensate for Knopf's absence-- and not in a bad way-- though it's hard to see how the vagaries of the songwriting that Knopf demonstrated on his most recent album as Ramona Falls would fit into Moms' emotionally raw feel. These aren't so-called naked songs in the singer-songwriterly sense; Moms often feels like turning up to a family function in the buff, and letting everyone have it.
If Mines was about possession-- note the cute baby grab of the title-- then Moms concerns itself with what we're given by others; ancestry, in a word. But the push and shove here is how these familial endowments inspire gratitude and resentment. "Hail Mary, is this golden ticket all that you've left me? For the therapists to pawn off and retire on the proceeds?" goes "Baton", one of Seim's songs that deals less with regret than the anxiety over memories slipping away-- like "I wish I could remember if my last words were sincere." (The ominous and distant "Tantalus", the name of a street near where Seim grew up in Hawaii, seems to be about revisiting childhood as a tourist.) It freewheels through different intensities-- a light organ and skewy drum solo in the verses, gradually intensifying to a chorus that's blustering and huge, but made up of the erratic samples that characterized their earlier work, which is definitely a tendency now more particular to Seim than Harris....full text
GoldflakepaintEvery once in a while life throws up a small moment where the only option for those involved is to take a step back, take a deep breath, and set about redefining themselves. For Menomena, and more specifically Justin Harris and Danny Seim, this moment came when band co-founder Brent Kopf decided to up-sticks and concentrate on his solo material. While we can never know the true in-and-outs of what happened in the immediate aftermath, we can imagine that, after ten years and four full-length albums, the discussion regarding whether or not to carry on at all was a prevalent one.
Whatever the fruits of those conversations were, the two men decided to plough on regardless. Rather than look outward and find ways of replacing Brent, they chose to look inward; at fractured pasts and adult desires, and they set about creating a record that would hold its own against their own back-catalogue, which is one of the most stimulating and fruitful in the whole of the staple-American-indie-rock cannon.
Carrying on as ‘Menomena‘ meant that they would have to find some way of making this record sound like a ‘Menomena record’; which is maybe easier said than done when you’ve just lost 33% of what gave you that sound in the first place. Rather than find a replacement, Justin and Danny have found slight but completely competent ways of adding bulk – if you will – to the tracks that make up Moms. It should also be noted that it never feels like they’ve over-indulged simply to cover up the gaps. The new ideas and new instrumentation are subtle and brilliantly used. It feels like a progression and it feels like a Menomena record. It’s also completely, and brilliantly, dazzling.
Despite Brents departure it should be pointed out that Menomena were doing absolutely nothing wrong. Their previous album, Mines, was a wonderfully daring and challenging pop record which showed true progression. And ‘progression‘ is a perfect word to attribute to them as a band; and it’s something that is fully on show again here, from the real-life tap-dancing percussion that flutters in the background throughout Don’t Mess With Laxetas – perfectly understated, not to mention delightful – to the poetic and abstruse shuffle of Pique; a track which is ably backed by signature brass squeals and jittery electric guitar lines.
The first-taster from the LP came in the form of Heavy Is As Heavy Does and it remains one of the albums stand-out tracks; spinning a tale upon which the rest of the record is wound around. “Heavy are the branches, hanging from my fucked-up family tree,” sings Harris over the top of some darkly affecting piano; relating a story of broken families and the hollowness that comes from such circumstances. It’s a heart-on-sleeve lament that perhaps offers up the records most down-beat outlook. That title, however, is shared with Moms‘ adieu, which comes courtesy of the mammoth ‘One Horse‘; an ostentatious but sumptuous triumph of cinematically dramatic strings, purring vocals and rising tension. More than anything though, that track in particular shows a giant dollop of self-belief and, therein, lies the key to this records success....full text
ErolsabadoshMenomena return with their fifth studio album Moms, minus founding member Brent Knopf and with a bigger and bolder sound than before. There's less of the cut 'n' paste approach to crafting songs that's become their trademark, ironically despite one third of the band departing this is the most unified and confidant they have ever sounded. Previous album Mines was perhaps their most serious, ditching the overarching playfulness of Friend and Foe for a tense and moody atmosphere. Don't let the title of Moms fool you though, this album is a powerful beast of chugging riffs, crashing percussion and intricate sound design and this time around the playfulness, experimentation and bizarre tendencies of Menomena's earlier work have crept back in to the foreground, married with a rejuvenated exuberance that makes this their most exciting and perhaps best record yet.
Opening track Plumage is an immediate, upbeat and catchy reintroduction, complete with handclaps, fuzz guitar, arpeggiated synths and quirky lyrics; "I once was tragically hip and beautifully fine, now my beautiful hips are tragically wide." Capsule begins with a sleazy strummed guitar on maximum overdrive before being snatched away and replaced with a stuttering beat and tight bassline. In just over four minutes the track incorporates blues influenced chords, lush piano, booming sub-bass, prog-rock breakdowns complete with woodwind flourishes and more of those quirky lyrics; "no more trophies as the consolation fantasy, like a nervous random stranger at a gloryhole." There isn't a single song here that doesn't showcase something new or reinforce the band's knack for left-field songwriting and composition....full text
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