Menomena must not want anybody to know much about them. There is a complete absence of credits in their album’s liner notes, which aren’t so much notes as they are a flipbook of studio images. If you go to their notoriously hideous website, you can find out a little more about the band, while you drag your star-trailed cursor across neon-colored clashing backdrops. There, you can glean a little more insight, but you’re better off just following the links to articles about the band, which give away all their secrets, i.e. their names.
After a long search you’ll find that Menomena are a Portland trio — Brent Knopf, Danny Seim and Justin Harris — that write songs built around sampled improvisations looped through a homemade computer program called Deeler. The idea may seem aesthetically closer to hip-hop or electronica than traditional rock music, and in many ways, Menomena do draw parallels to Roland jockeys. But make no mistake, Menomena write rock songs.
The nine tracks on I Am the Fun Blame Monster, the Oregonians’ debut, meet at the crossroads of Telecasters and 1200s. Each track is essentially an exercise in balance, maintaining a delicate compromise between Zen-like minimalism and orchestral indulgence. “The Late Great Libido,” begins with a bouncy bass loop as Knopf croons “Four score and seven years to go” before an elaborate piano lead kicks in. Some quirky guitar leads carry the song into the next track, “E. is Stable,” a slow, gorgeous song built around some repeated slide guitar leads.
Things do get louder, though: “Trigga Hiccups” is a danceable fuzzed-out song with some simple, distorted leads, and album closer “The Monkey’s Back” is a sensory maelstrom, transitioning from spooky jazz jam to menacing rock monster.
All of this is fine and good, and few will be able to resist Menomena’s sonic stew. But the most fun thing about I Am the Fun Blame Monster is that it bumps. It’ll out-crunk the suburban gangsta wannabe next to you at a stoplight, guaranteed. Not that Menomena sounds anything like Li’l Rob or Big Rob or Rob Murder. But the baritone sax and piano breakdown in “Twenty Cell Revolt” are an apt test for your sub-woofers.
It’d be a lie to say that there’s nothing out there like Menomena. Sampling and homemade production are far from revolutionary techniques. But instead of adding quirk or danceability to Monster, Menomena uses technology to craft flawlessly beautiful songs, even if they ultimately choose to remain anonymous about it.
TV on the Radio – Young Liars
UNKLE – Psyence Fiction
Radiohead – Kid A
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.