(Barsuk Records) “I'm nothing if I'm nothing but a yes-man / I try my best; I guess my best it not enough / and now I'm getting used to getting used by you / so much so that I'm starting to feel right at home / on the whipping pole.” Imagine these clever lyrics backed by growling horns and fuzzed guitar – a grand and open arrangement that makes use of the space between events as much as it does the events themselves. Now you have an idea of Menomena's new album Moms.
Portland, Oregon's Menomena have been going at it for over a decade, and they've toured with legendary bands like Gang of Four, The National, and The Long Winters. In fact, they once had an RV known as “RV Danger” after Long Winters frontman John Roderick's former touring band Harvey Danger. That vehicle spawned many excellent rock'n'roll stories, including two occasions when it burst into flames. Menomena's music shares something of that spirit, coming across like a tangle of noisy wires and transistors that may ignite at any moment.
Tracks like “Baton” have a floating quality, undercut by sharp rhythms in bass and drums. The stuttering vocals spit clipped phrases: “Hail, Mary, here's a new baton to pass in the relay / between the bath-house and the condom mountains lining the freeway / I wish you were my lover with your hands in place of ears / I wish that co-dependence could sustain us through the years / I wish that wrecking fantasies could pass for a career.” The bitter poetry of these lines recalls the cynical voice of Firewater songwriter Tod A; and like Firewater's best work – or a glitchy ballad by Grandaddy – the song then launches into a gorgeously epic chorus: “No-one turn the light on in the morgue!” The music fills your soul and sweeps you away to some kind of tattered, cloudy vista that may as likely exist in another world as this one.
Menomena know what they're doing by this point. They're writing mature, finely-crafted songs that nonetheless don't feel overly tinkered-with. The music is raw and immediate, like they've just sat down and jammed out something they're still excited about. A comparison to Television's aesthetic wouldn't go amiss here. Like Tom Verlaine serenading the Venus de Milo in a punk-rock cartoon fantasy, Moms is alive and kicking with brazen energetic style. It's assured without being safe – a rare balancing act.
If the recordings are anything to go by, Menomena sound like a band that would be excellent fun to see live. In fact, they're criss-crossing the US and Canada in Fall of 2012 before jumping over to Europe in November. Maybe think about buying a ticket to one of their shows after you've given the recorda few spins. Odds are, you'll be talking about it for weeks afterward. A band this good at the top of their game would be a fine thing indeed to witness.
Moms makes a statement of ambitious intent, and then exceeds the expectations it has set for itself. “Glacial garden, you've made a mess out of me / I liked you better as a packet of seeds / Pruned your fingers, wove your arms through the fence / Now you're choking everything.”
Standout Tracks: “Pique”, “Baton”, “Tantalus”, “Capsule”
For Fans Of: Morphine, Beirut, The Long Winters, Gang of Four, Firewater, Grandaddy, Television