04 August 2010

Menomena's Mines: A Review

Remember when Dismemberment Plan slowly changed their sound toward more maturity with Emergency & I, then made the completely beautiful and uncharacteristically toned down, serious record, Change?  Yeah, me neither.  But I bet there are people older than me who kept up with independent rock at the turn of the century that can verify it.  All I really have to work with are the works themselves, while others probably have a fuller understanding of the context the albums were released in.  Either way I see a lot of similarities between Dismemberment Plan and Menomena with regards to maturing as individual groups.  The first Dismemberment Plan album, !, was jumpy, chaotic, apt to shouting abruptly, and featured discordant alarming guitar patterns mixed with poppy jingles for choruses.  The lyrics dealt with failed relationships, introspection, sarcasm, and wit, and sometimes were placed in a sincere, more down-trodden environment, like "Rusty," instead of the emotional rollercoaster ride that is "Ok Jokes Over" (which features a great slide guitar, much like Jesus Lizard's "Nub").   With the next album, The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified, they kept a lot of the same quirks, but added more heartfelt songs, while maintaining a good measure of the crazy songs that came to characterize them.  Then with Emergency & I the mix became more even, and that mix, coupled with more earnest lyrics, resulted in it being their best album.  The opening track on Change, "Sentimental Man," in the context of their previous albums is like a cool pleasant mist brushing over your face, when you may be expecting a water balloon.  And that water balloon never comes.  The entire album is a more peaceful, yet still anxiously introspective sign of maturity and acceptance.  It's just too bad that they broke up after it.
            Although, obviously, this isn't a direct parallel to Menomena's career, again, there is a similar transition of maturity taking place, and this time I was actually "there" when Friend and Foe was released and here now, upon the release of Mines.  I remember when I first heard Friend and Foe, how I was blown away by their songwriting and song-forming process through the help of a computer program that one of the band members had made.  I saw them live in 2007, after the release of that album and was very impressed by their versatility on stage, switching instruments seamlessly.  Also at that show, I bought their first album, I am the Fun Blame Monster (an anagram for The First Menomena Album), which had a little bit of a more serious tone compared to the playful one in Friend and Foe (although it also has its share of "serious" songs: "West" and "Rotten Hell" for example) that I had become accustomed to.  And with Mines I get a similar feel of the extremity in seriousness over playfulness taking place as with Change by Dismemberment Plan.  But this isn't to say that it's a boring album, or a depressing album, but a gorgeous empathetic one.  "Muscle n' Flo," the song that kicks off Friend and Foe has this sort of kids-playing-in-a-toilet-merrily (or something like that) vibe, and the voices, although singing disparagingly about facing the day, sound nonchalantly joyful in a way.  But on Mines we get a solemn start that sets the tone of the album, much like Change.  There are some songs that are still true to form, like "BOTE," which, for me at one point made me wonder if Menomena were sampling themselves.  I guess that's just a sign of an artist or group that has a very unmistakable sound.
            I'm not sure the actual validity of this (as I'm not a real music journalist and don't get press releases), but I heard somewhere on the very reliable Internet that some, or all of the members of this band grew up in very strong Christian households.  I seem to remember an interview somewhere where one member said something about having Michael W. Smith albums in his house when he was younger, which is something I'm familiar with as well.  That being the case, assuming that they aren't as strong of Christians anymore, this album seems to seek solace in spirituality outside the confines of religion - in their own way.  The voice of the singers seems more pining for something and the lyrics, sometimes made up of simple yet extremely meaningful and potent statements resonate, just as the lyrics "rabbit's door," "rabbit's hole," and "open book," from earlier in the song, echo at the end in a swirl similar to my mental process at the end of the night sometimes, in "Black Queen Acid."  At the moment, my favorite songs are "Dirty Cartoons" and "Tithe."  "Dirty Cartoons," whether conscious or not recalls the same sentiments as The Beach Boys' "Sloop John B," in the yearning to "go home."  The end of the song sounds eerily like a song straight out of a church hymnal, and is played with so much genuine feeling, it pervades into the metaphysical realm.  And I've often felt, on those days when everything seems so mundane and pointless, the sentiment of "Nothing sounds appealing" that is at center of "Tithe" (which also has an overtly religious theme).
            The first time I listened to this album, I sort of felt done with it, but I may have been preoccupied with something else.  A week later when I finally got around to listening to it again, I loved it so much I had to listen to it again, and I'm still, two days later listening to it multiple times a day.  I really didn't have an expectation for this album, basically because I had forgotten about the band in the 3 years since they released their previous album, that is until a few months ago when one of my co-workers was wearing the Menomena shirt that had their name in the Metallica font, and we talked about them briefly and he said "Yeah, they're about due for a new album.  It's been a while."  It certainly was a while, but the quality of this album is well worth the wait.

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