Friday, July 16, 2010

Menomena - Mines

I was up in PDX a few weeks ago visiting my mahollers when I got my first taste of a sea-salt-pistachio-cardamom brownie. It’s not such a far-flung or disparate concoction as it may seem. Certainly not so contradictory as McDonald’s new healthy “Go Active” meal (are you fucking kidding me) or gay African American republicans (deal with it Dennis Sanders). The brownie is delicious. It’s toothsome. It’s ambrosial. It’s just fantastic. That’s not really what this is about. This isn’t a review of a brownie that I had a few bites of and want more of now. It’s about Menomena’s new album, Mines, and how they continue to fuse different elements of music into a cohesive and energetically enjoyable unit. Yes, yes, it’s true that the band is made up of multi-instrumentalists but that’s not what makes their sound diverse yet unified. It’s the way they employ those ingredients that joins all those various influences into winsome and full indie pop.

On the new album, Brent Knopf, Justin Harris and Danny Seim play everything from blues-rock guitar licks and hip hop drum kicks to classic pop piano flurries and honking saxophone. There’s a certain joyousness to the music, even in the down-tempo moments. There’s a sense of playful lightheartedness. They clearly opened a window and shoved seriousness out. Not that they don’t take their music seriously but that they do it without ego. It’s light. It’s fun. A lot of the gaiety must result from their recording method. If you haven’t heard or read by now, the band uses a digital looping recorder called Deeler that Knopf programmed himself. They pass a single mic attached to Deeler around and each member takes a turn recording a riff and looping it. It’s a very democratically constructivist approach that results in their effulgent sound. It might be similar to the way that salty, nutty, spicy, sweet confection was made. The cooks were just fucking around in the kitchen and decided to make a brownie, each adding their own randomly chosen ingredient. That’s pure speculation though.

All the elements of this broad range of sound and fun are on display on the second track of the album, the Harris-led “TAOS”. At the start, a guitar whales backed by kicking drums then dies off so the space can be filled by gathering piano. The piano gives way to ringing cymbals and thudding drums, that get some support from a bleating sax, only to be replaced by winding piano, before blazing back with the guitar and horns at the finish of the track. Meanwhile, Harris’s voice lifts, falls and rolls through self-effacing lyrics supported by soft full vocal backing near the end. It’s really too much to describe here. I suggest you just give it a listen. “Five Little Rooms” is similarly diverse, though driven more by sax and break beat style drumming and supported by a rippling electronic sound that could be a theramin but is more likely Knopf playing the keys.

Knopf, Harris and Seim create fun and diverse indie pop, omnivorously drawing from other genres and styles to create their own perfectly thick, happy and quirk-captained music. You can’t just cram a sheet of sea-salt-pistachio-cardamom brownies into your ears… well… I suppose you can but it’s gonna be a messy affair and you won’t get much out of it. Just listen to Menomena’s Mines instead. Leave the spiced chocolate ear for a special occasion.

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