MENOMENA – MINES (BARSUK, 2010)

Menomena make music for diminished men. If I Am The Fun Blame Monsterwas about being scared as hell about embracing adulthood with any sort of openness that didn’t bifurcate experience into the two camps of lovely or terrifying, Mines feels like a resignation letter to the better competitors in life and a manifesto of being content with just existing. Sorry ladies, this a mans record. Not that you wouldn’t like it. In fact you should listen to it. But there is something about being an object rather than the subject in your own story that men need to hear. Lyrical allusions to being “not the most cocksure guy” and being scared to death of a female counterpart who doesn’t weigh more than 100 lbs, to wanting nothing more than “to go home” when we are expected to be brave, witty, and strong, speak to a deep masculine insecurity that Menomena explore brilliantly throughout the bulk of this album.

With that said, Mines is by far Menomena’s lushest, grandest, and most mature album to date. No qualifiers on that, this isn’t lush, grand, or mature in the way Friend and Foe was in Menomena’s own weird way. This is straight up High Violet pretty. In fact, forget you ever heard The National.This is your new NPR, hip-thirty year old, critically lauded album. This makes sense in a way. Pre-Mines side projects of Brent Knopf’s Ramona Falls and Danny Seim’s Lackthereof, hinted towards an individual sense of compositional maturity at the expense of actual exciting music (barring of course Seim’s incredible cover of “Fake Empire”. Listen to that now.) Collectively Mines doesn’t have that problem. Songs like “Tithe”, “Dirty Cartoons”, and “Sleeping Beauty”, while restrained, are audibly some of the most interesting things Menomena have ever produced. Gone are the aleatoric moments of the DEELER software days, or the goofy/terrifying emotional transperancy of I am the Fun Blame Monster. Mines embraces the pop song structure without sacrificing the experimental give-and-take of Knopf’s gorgeous ascending piano lines, swapping instrumentation, electronic blips-and-bloops, group melodies, and the signature saxophone on almost every track. If High Violet took 6 months to track, I can’t even guess how long this took. This onion has layers. Just when you think you have got to the bottom of a track you find more vocal harmonies, oddball percussion, and strangely tuned guitars.
 
Mines disappoints when it comes to the burners. “TAOS” and “BOTE” swap the barely contained rage-cum-fragility of IATFBM with typical muscular rock-band drumming (which is remarkably punchy and huge) and classic rock influenced guitar licks. The most brilliant moment on an album full of downright jaw dropping moments is the album opener “Queen Black Acid”. There is so much ground you can cover without a single power chord. Plus, Knopf’s near Graceland white-guy vocal scatting fits in a weird way between the distant firework thud of Seim’s drumwork and into the open space of the cavernous production.
 
With as much growing up as Menomena has done in the three years since their last album, they haven’t sacrificed their fierce exploration of how much sound they can cram into a single song or between three friends. Mines puts Menomena back on the map of being one of the most innovative and talented bands in the indie-rock landscape.
 
Ryan H.

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