Few bands have ever had the relationship with their music that Menomena has. Few other bands have pushed the envelope without going out of their way like Menomena has. In fact, it’s safe to say that there have been few bands like Menomena, and on their latest album, Mines, which came out July 27, the band has taken out an insurance policy that there never will be.
Since their formation in late 2000, the Portland, Ore., band has used a homemade computer program called Digital Looping Recorder, or “Deeler,” to record individual improvised loops on all instruments the band uses. The band then uses these loops to construct entire songs. After that they write lyrics and actually learn the songs so they can perform them live. Sound complicated? It is.
“While recording, we didn’t really think about the fact that it might be humanly impossible for three people to play all those parts onstage,” drummer and founder Danny Seim once admitted.
Guitarist Brent Knopf designed the program as a college project, and the band has been using it ever since. Deeler has allowed the trio to create the immensely deep orchestration that they have become known and critically acclaimed for. Their small-scale debut I Am The Blame Fun Monster (an anagram of “The First Menomena Album”), received attention after the band mailed a copy to Pitchfork media, which gave the album an 8.5 out of 10 rating, as well as their coveted “Best New Music” stamp of approval.
Now, seven years after their debut, and three-and-a-half years after their last album, the equally acclaimed Friend and Foe, Menomena has returned to challenge our concept of music with Mines, an album as complex, vast and impossible to map as the title suggests.
Mines begins with the beautiful simplicity of repeating chords on guitar and rim shot on drums on the slow and moving “Queen Black Acid,” in which piano and ambient keyboard slip in and out in the background. A thunderous buildup of strings and shimmering bells halfway through the song couples with an Arcade Fire-reminiscent chorus of desperate shouting through voices similar to those of TV On The Radio: “I walked right in through a rabbit’s door/and walked right into a rabbit’s hole.”
Yet on the very next track, “TAOS,” Justin Harris’ astounding bass and Seim’s blasting drums work to build a truly face-melting atmosphere of pure rock at the introduction. All this, and it still comes off as smart as the soulful track before it. This is probably because of the song’s brilliant transition into strings, blues piano and the occasional saxophone that will surface and resurface throughout Mines.
From the dark baritone piano chords and menacing tom hits on “Killemall” to the transition from finger piano to actual piano on “Tithe,” instrumentation remains one of the most captivating aspects of this and any other Menomena album. Saxophones parallel the blues horns of Exile On Main Street on songs like “BOTE” but provide minimalist loops in the choruses of songs like “Five Little Rooms.” Piano dances around behind every song, each time taking a new form.
With Mines, Menomena has yet again one-upped themselves. Their unconventional creative process and their love for unique instrumentation show a dedicated and endlessly fascinating band.