What’s “Mines” is Yours (And You Can Keep it)
It’s been quite a while since I’ve thought about Menomena, and even longer (almost 2 years now) since I’ve actually listened to the experimental indie band. Friend and Foe was at the top of my playlist for pretty much all of the summer between my dramatic escape from high school, and the beginnings of my campaign to conquer the wilds of college life. To say the least ,I had some good times with that album. It was the Portland, Oregon band’s third official release (the two preceding full-lengths the band recorded and produced on their own, to relatively warm reviews) and it continued strongly in the DIY vein. It was their most solid and entertaining effort so far and I remember enjoying it tremendously when I first heard it and for a while after.
Most things fade with time though, my interest in Menomena being one. Here it is the ass-end of July, 2010 and I’m just now getting to listen to Menomena’s fourth full-length, Mines, released on Barsuk records. Chances are you don’t remember when the last Menomena album came out. I couldn’t remember it for the life of me, so I had to look it up. January 23, 2007. Two thousand and fucking seven. That’s right; it’s been about three and a half years since Friend and Foe was officially released. I know you’re a busy guy, Danny Seim, but come on, three and a half years between releases is just a tad ridiculous, especially in this, the fast paced digital-age of music. I nearly forgot about you. The world did see two releases from Seim’s solo-project Lackthereof, (2008’s full-length Your Anchor, followed by the best of album, A Lackthereof Retrospective 1998-2008, or I was a Christian Emo Twentysomething, a year later) that is if anyone listened to either of these in the absence of any new Menomena material ( were you really that desperate?); I hadn’t even heard of Lackthereof until I sat down to write this review a few days ago… Staggering lapses in album releases aside though, let’s talk about Mines.
The album starts off rather promisingly as we’re greeted by the unique voice of a seemingly long lost “friend”, the voice that was a big part of the reason I started listening to Menomena in the first place. “Queen Black Acid” carries along for the first verse on a sparse drum beat and simple guitar riff, until the chorus breaks in and we see the drums picking up and are introduced to a pretty sweet piano line. The song takes on a kind of twisted alt-country feel here and I’m sold. I’m down with this song and eager to see what the rest of the album has in store. That’s a shame though.
After this quick (though none of the songs on this album can really be considered “quick”, the shortest one by far clocks in at 3:30) re-introduction to our “friend” that we haven’t seen for a while, we begin to realize that he’s not the crazy fun guy that we went to college with anymore (you’ve changed, man. What happened to you, you used to be cool?) but instead he’s settled down and probably has a family or something now. He’s boring and dull and I can’t really get myself to listen to what he’s saying about his 401k. This is a close approximation of my feelings toward this Menomena album. What was once rather original and disorienting (in the good, funhouse way) has given way to predictability and repetition. Songs like “TAOS” and “Tithe” meander along and tend to linger around about 2 minutes too long. Kind of like if that “friend” of ours started to tell us a story, got to the point of the story within the first few minutes of its telling and then continued on, detailing unnecessary and boring specifics. That’s what most of these songs do, I get where they’re going (it’s an ok place, doesn’t look much too different from Friend and Foe though) but I don’t really want to listen to a watered down version of an album that came out 3 and a half years ago. Where the odd arrangements were fun and kept me guessing on the last album, they don’t serve as much of a purpose on Mines, instead they just remind us that oddly placed horn/ guitar squeals and creepy lyrics are Menomena’s “thing”. I enjoyed them on tracks like “Wet and Rusting” and “Muscle’n Flo” but this time around, it’s just not enough. Really, what this album is lacking is some muscle; songs like “Dirty Cartoons” and “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy” are just straight up anemic.
One stand out track, and probably my favorite off of the album, is the second to last “Sleeping Beauty” which is probably the only song on the album that is improved by the drony build up, which yields a pretty cool electro-psych pop song that recalls elements of MGMT via Congratulations. Other than that though, the album falls pretty short for me. I don’t hate this album; it’s not terrible, it’s just that it is boring and maybe even a little uninspired. It is summer though, and this certainly is not a summer record. It had that going against it from the very beginning, so I do apologize for my biases, Menomena, but I really need something bouncier and sweat-inducing (Major Lazer ep, anyone?) for this last stretch of heat-stroke inducing days. Maybe I’ll come back to you when I start unpacking the sweaters and the leaves are falling.