When Treble awarded Menomena’s “Wet and Rusting” its “Brightest Hope for 2007” Trebblie as the year end’s most promising preview of the year to come, admittedly, it was one of a small pool of nominees. Up against only two other artists, the Portland group had a fairly good chance of bringing home our incredibly lightweight statuette. But taking into account that The Shins and Deerhoof get any indie nerd salivating at the mere notion, Menomena was up against some strong competition. Nonetheless, we gave them our esteemed trophy based entirely on the merits of their awesome single, an invigorating, yet somewhat familiar package of dynamic instrumentals and soaring melodies. We hope word got to them; it’s not like we create these awards for our own amusement. (Shhhhh….)
Well, in any case, Menomena held true to their promise, and as such Friend and Foe is the first great album of 2007 to have landed in our mailbox. Everything that made the band’s debut I Am the Fun Blame Monster such an exciting leftfield release has returned with stronger reinforcements, better production and a dozen more amazing tracks on Friend and Foe. Technically the band’s third album, Friend and Foe follows up the all instrumental modern dance soundtrack Under an Hour with a return to actual “rock” music, or at least Menomena’s take on it. Given the band’s penchant for cut and paste sample layering and a love of subtlety and mood, it’s by no means a traditional guitar, bass and drums album. All of those elements are here of course, but woven delicately between hand percussion, ghostly vocals, baritone sax, piano and whatever other tools the group chooses to disturb the all too still atmosphere.
Now, back to “Wet and Rusting,” the song that got our attention in the first place—it’s an extremely lofty peak, a song that goes from gentle high-pitched vocals to intense, pounding drums and an incredibly catchy piano hook in the matter of a couple minutes. While stylistically similar to previous favorites like “The Late Great Libido” and “Trigger Hiccups,” it manages to make better an already awesome sound, which could only mean that the band is going in the right direction. Oh, but there are eleven more songs on this thing, and it’d be a shame not to mention those.
The opening track, “Muscle `n’ Flo,” has both muscle and flow, popping and flexing with sinewy bass lines and immensely crashing drums. “Air Aid” is minimal and haunting, a chugging one-note bassline undermining a soulful and delicate harmony overhead. “Weird” lives up to its promise, offering a truly weird, yet no less kickass progression of synth bleeps and eerie slide guitar riffs. Then there’s “My My,” a more emotional and eerie ballad that opens with a weeping organ and the sadly hopeful line, “What if all my enemies were dead/and I could forget everything they said?”
There are moments when the quirk seems to define the song, like the descending melody of “Running” and its chant of “Before the cows come home!” And the whistling that opens “Boyscout’n” will certainly compel a smile from many a listener, though “Evil Bee,” which trails it, changes course with more of an epic, grandiose performance of crashes and twinkles, like a Flaming Lips battlefield opera…whatever that would be. Despite not playing by traditional rock band rules, Menomena is a band that certainly rocks hard. They do it by means of whistles, loops and lots of moody piano and reverb, but they rock nonetheless.
MP3: “Wet and Rusting”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.