Menomena - Friend and Foe
When Menomena appeared out of nowhere on an Internet hype wave in 2003, it would have been pretty easy to miss the music amidst all the peripheral stuff. There was the band's goofy sense of humor, manifested in a ridiculous website and a debut album packaged in a flipbook, titled I Am The Fun Blame Monster—an anagram for “The First Menomena Album.” Then there was the homegrown software the Portland trio used to compose its music.
But there was music, and it was quite good. Despite the jokey presentation, the songs were decidedly weary, yet pulsating with energy. Menomena came off as a fey junkyard robot, with jazz and electronica arms soldered onto a body with an indie rock heart. Piano, bass and drums were the foundation, but guitar, sax and an array of other surprises made appearances. Though all three members contributed lead vocals and the songs widely varied in style, the album felt like a consistent whole.
That fluidity continues on Friend and Foe, the band’s second album (excluding the instrumental dance soundtrack Under an Hour). Once again, the songs sound like a skilled team of scientists dispatched on a wide range of explorations. But where last time the album seemed like the raw data from those expeditions, Friend and Foe plays like the carefully crafted reports turned in months after the experiment.
The album starts off immediately, with only a quick drum fill before the verse of “Muscle’n Flo” kicks in, as if the band can’t believe it’s taken this long to release a proper second album and is in a hurry to remind people how great they are. The ensuing three-song stretch makes for one hell of a reminder.
“Muscle’n Flo” is the sound of that junkyard robot waking up, wiping the sleep from its eyes and staggering to the bathroom mirror, only to realize it’s pulled a Pinocchio and is now a real boy. It sets the pace for the rest of the album: Menomena 2.0 is still the product of computer recording sessions, but the band now sounds as organic as garage band—albeit a superbly talented, restlessly inventive garage band.
Track 2, “The Pelican,” stomps the yard with a menacing piano-led plod before shooting off into Soft Bulletin euphoria. And the third song, “Wet and Rusting,” employs the trademark Menomena tactic of sliding instruments in and out of the mix, adding breathtaking suspense to the band’s most accessible song yet. Nothing afterward is quite so revelatory, but it’s all great, from the poppy call to arms “Rotten Hell” to the whistling, aptly titled “Boyscout’n” to the tour de force “Evil Bee.” It all goes to show that Menomena is no gimmick, no flash in the pan and most definitely no joke.
Grade: A- Download: “Wet and Rusting,” “The Pelican” Web: menomena.com