Label: Barsuk Records
Menomena might someday be the synonym for democracy. Portland trio Brent Knopf, Justin Harris and Danny Seim took their sweet time following up 2007’s Friend and Foe, hardly a surprise considering the band’s entropically meticulous pass-the-mic songwriting process. Utilizing the services of their longtime songwriting friend, Deeler – a self-created software program that loops musical phrases – the trio’s usual puzzle-piece approach is fairly evident, but with the most orthodox results they’ve ever achieved.
“Queen Black Acid” opens things with mellow and minimal instrumentation – a bloopy electronic bassline, jangly guitars and pianos, a staccato drumbeat – but climaxes into a euphoric free-for-all of aura-laden lushness. The immediate impression is strangely identifiable, as Menomena have finally unearthed the underlying pop in their music. “Queen Black Acid” sets up an interesting verse-chorus preconception for the listener, one that “Taos” abruptly shatters. Recalling the fractured nature of their debut album, the track functions as a literal hodgepodge of stray guitar, horn and synth licks. It’s not only Mines’ best example for displaying Menomena’s raw energy and eclectic nature, but it’s also the song that simultaneously reflects the innovative ideas and intricacies the band is capable of and the faults of their songwriting system. It’s hard to savor the song’s brilliant highs when they’re anything but seamlessly arranged and composed, something other cult bands like Pavement and Mr. Bungle mastered in their heyday. But whereas the aforementioned bands worked as a collective on the material, Knopf, Harris and Seim reportedly took turns reshaping each song until they gradually evolved into something that pleased each of them. This eclectic approach, however, impedes on the climactic potential of many of Mines’ compositions.
“Taos” quickly reveals itself to be a fallacy of its own; it’s the oddball, the social deviant amongst the rest of the rather tame album. Subsequent tracks like “Killemall,” “Dirty Cartoons,” “Sleeping Beauty” and many others are very cut-and-dry, abstaining from the utter weirdness of the band’s innate nature. Even though Mines proves to be a graceful step into the pop arena, the band hasn’t lost their interesting knack for twisting lyrical themes. The groovy, Led Zeppelin-charged “Bote” is a playful but earnest examination of self-questioning. On “Five Little Rooms,” Seim bellows his tale of insatiability into the darkest corners of Menomena’s work: “Five little rooms/ One for each of my husbands/ One for each of my bride-grooms/ And their prostitutes/ And their children/ Take a breath of the scenery/ All this someday could be yours.”
Mines’ compositions are less arbitrary than Menomena’s early work, thus Deeler’s influence this time around renders the album much more accessible to a wider range of listeners. The frustrating thing about the album is that it’s brilliant yet inhibiting, epic yet uneven. The various shades and movements within each song are undoubtedly compelling, but Menomena still needs to fine-tune their work to gel more fluidly. Unabashedly hinting at the ulterior genius within, Mines is likely to stick in your CD player and in your head for days to come, but they still have a little ways to go on perfecting what they represent.