Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Record label: Barsuk
Genre(s): Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock
Review Summary: guess i'll have to faceTo Moms, the oh so wonderful Moms, there should be a story: Brent Knopf left the band, leaving some sort of unspeakable trail behind him, surely? This half-band, a bassist, a drummer (now everything), just two of three distinguishable songwriters (who sound, it’s worth nothing, fairly similar, somewhere between Kings of Leon brassiness and, er, something else- Pitchfork suggested Blur, and on “One Horse,” you can’t deny their perception) and half a democracy. We should say, as we do, that this album is something different, or that Knopf has fractured his band; we should say this Menomena is new, rather than old, or that Menomena is dead. Menomena is certainly different.
Holy vitriol, Batman! Menomena's fifth full-length Moms doesn't hold back on the bile, the band aiming their acid tongues at unsatisfying lovers and the family tree. Why, it's enough to make matriarchs everywhere clutch at their pearls. That is, if their frank thesis ("I'm nothing more than an animal in search of another animal to tame and claim as my own") wasn't cloaked in such breezy, jazz-influenced instrumentals.
One of the most likeable things about Menomena is the healthy dose of levity with which its records are imbued, dating back to the Portland then-trio’s 2003 debut, I Am the Fun Blame Monster! Even the band’s website post announcing founding member Brent Knopf’s departure was laced with a Peter Gabriel/Genesis wisecrack. The good news: Knopf leaving to focus on his Ramona Falls project does not spell out a Gabriel—>Collins–degree sea change in Menomena’s approach, with Danny Seim’s presence still central. The bad news: maybe a gust of wind or a riptide at a time like this wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.
MenomenaMoms[Barsuk; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; November 9, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetMoms is a record that almost never was. Menomena’s last album–2010’s Mines–was such a strong product that it was easy to bypass all the work surrounding it, specifically the “gruelling” recording sessions the band endured to make it. When the departure of band member Brent Knopf was announced at the start of 2011 there was an ounce or two of worry that presented itself, that Menomena might cease to exist from thereon in.
Menomena are four records deep into their career, but it's their fifth, Moms, that feels like a debut. In some respects, it is. Multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf left the band last year to focus on his other project, Ramona Falls; and Menomena's first LP as a duo shows Danny Seim and Justin Harris dealing with truly personal subject matters for the first time.
Being reduced to a duo following the departure of Brent Knopf doesn't seem to have damaged Portland band Menomena's ambition. Their fifth album is an epic, genre-busting album in the manner of Public Image's Metal Box or Primal Scream's Screamadelica. Hurling together handclaps, electronic sub bass, shuffling drums, dub, shoegaze, fuzz guitars and mournful pianos, it's a kaleidoscope of sound which changes gear from song to song and often within them, blasting from brass stabs to funk motifs with dizzying glee.
The word menomena is purportedly, if you believe Wikipedia’s entry on this Portland-based band, Greek for “what remains”. If true, this would be an apt summation of Menomena in 2012, as the band has gone from being a trio to a duo since the release of 2010’s Mines. Founding member Brent Knopf left the band in early 2011 to focus more squarely on his other project, Ramona Falls, leaving just Justin Harris and Danny Seim to carry on the Menomena flag for their fifth release, Moms, which sees the duo splitting the songwriting duties equally between them – five songs were written by Harris and five by Seim.
"FUCK. WHY DID MENOMENA BREAK UP?" said one Twitter user earlier this year, evidently a latecomer to news of the band's internal fallout in January 2011. The announcement of founder member Brent Knopf's departure, foreshadowed several months earlier by a series of spectacularly bleak interviews with the band, presented little surprise but sucked nonetheless: the Portland three-piece had, after all, been responsible for at least two of the most creative, interesting albums of the last decade, and any shift to their dynamic surely threatened it.
When Brent Knopf parted ways with Menomena less than a year after the release of their fourth album, Mines, the future of the band seemed uncertain. As a three-piece, the native Portlanders excelled at creating dense, lyrically rich, multi-layered songs that could play just as well in a small, intimate venue as they could in a large-scale arena. But it could be argued that the original trio’s internal struggles are what kept them from gaining greater commercial success.
In their early days, Portland, Oregon’s Menomena suffered from a surfeit of wacky ideas that made their multi-layered art-rock admirable if not entirely listenable. Having hit their stride with 2010’s ‘Mines’, and following the 2011 departure of Brent Knopf, the newly reduced duo return with a fifth album that could be 2012’s least likely coming-of-age. On ‘Moms’ we have echoes of Blur’s piercing directness (‘Plumage’), Super Furry Animals’ tropical psychedelia (‘Capsule’) and, in ‘Pique’, a masterclass in dark, euphoric songwriting.
MENOMENA play the Horseshoe on October 17. See listing. Rating: NNNN After co-founder Brent Knopf left Portland indie rockers Menomena following their 2010 album, Justin Harris and Danny Seim regrouped as a duo and used the opportunity to dig deep into their family histories - Seim's mom died in the mid-90s, Harris's mom raised the family mostly on her own - to figure shit out.
Menomena’s albums have always been patchworks of sorts, the three members sending musical ideas to one another through email and constructing songs using their own software. 2010’s excellent Mines sure didn’t sound pieced together, and the Portland three-piece again had another dense and stunning piece of ear candy on their hands. But the cracks were beginning to surface.
Editor's Note: The lead of this review has been changed, as the original text contained a passage similar to one found in the Willamette Week interview linked in the piece. The author of this review, who read the interview in question, indicates that the similarity was not intentional. Pitchfork regrets the error. What'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's Danny Seim, Brent Knopf, and Justin Harris.
Carrying on after the departure of Brent Knopf, who left the band to focus on his solo project Ramona Falls, Menomena return as a duo on their fifth album, Moms. Exuberant and direct, the album is a refreshing change from the subtle layering of Mines, finding the band at its most musically manic while delivering its most personal lyrics to date. As the album's title implies, Moms finds Justin Harris and Danny Seim exploring the relationships the two had with their own mothers, with Harris having been raised by a single mother while Seim's mother passed away when he was young, giving the album a unifying theme that adds a layer of pathos to the cut-and-paste loop frenzy that has always been a staple of Menomena's sound.
When founding member Brent Knopf exited Menomena in early 2011, DEELER, the computer program he developed, may well have followed suit. That’s short for ‘Digital Looping Recorder,’ and it’s how the band writes: by passing around a mic and recording directly into a ten-track loop sampler. It’s brought forth some of the most pleasantly intricate pop arrangements this side of Elephant 6, but on 2010’s Mines, it resulted in some of the group’s most tangled, maddeningly inorganic songwriting yet.
Less than a year after the release of Menomena’s fourth album, Mines, multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf decided to leave the band and focus on his solo project, Ramona Falls, leaving remaining members Justin Harris and Danny Seim to assume the role of Portland’s other finest duo. Although Knopf’s departure was on amicable terms, the decision came as a surprise to Harris and Seim and forced them to decide whether they wanted to carry on making music as Menomena. The answer was yes, and the two picked themselves right back up and dove straight into the recording and production of Moms.
Since the release of the brilliant ‘Mines’ co-founder Brent Knopf has departed Menomena. It means Justin Harris and Danny Seim have been left to create the maternally-motivated ‘Moms’.And maybe that’s a good thing. Because, though ‘Mines’ was a spectacular record, it was at a time Seim and Knopf had just gone through divorces while Harris was seeing a therapist.