One of my most highly anticipated releases of ohhh, the last 3 years is finally here. And when I say finally here, I mean streaming on npr.org for free. I have to disclose up front that I don't actually have a full copy of Mines yet, and so maybe somehow I am missing something. However, I have listened to that stream a number of times and feel like one of the things I want to get better at on sonicanarchy is getting reviews of new albums done while they're still new.
Menomena first rose to prominence in my vast collection of musical interests back in 2007 when they released Friend and Foe. I recall being immediately taken with their first single Muscle n' Flo. A dramatic, beat heavy awkward pitched track that incorporated an awesome saxophone backing track. Everything about that song embodied what was to be found on the rest of the album, and can easily stand as my flagship track to introduce new listeners to Menomena's sound. Friend and Foe easily stands as one of my top albums of the decade, and is the reason Menomena has become my next 'must see' band (though unfortunately they're not doing any festivals or coming near WNY on their tour).
With Mines taking over 3 years to record and release perhaps the level of excitement for this album may have become a bit exaggerated. This was the first time I had followed a recording cycle for the band, and every news update mentioned the meticulous work that goes into creating one of their songs. Many articles mentioned how they like to lay down a song, then dissect it over and over until it's almost a new song. Far be it from me to tell someone how their creative process should be handled, but I sometimes worry when I hear this type of program employed in that a band might be prone to 'overdoing' it.
I make note of that because what I think a listener will find on Mines is probably the result of this type of work ethic. Each song sounds very carefully mixed, and constructed. Utilizing the sonic build up's and epic conclusions that are common among the group's previous works. One thing Menomena is not for lack of is evoking a sense of intimacy between a song and it's listener. On Mines they have carefully crafted a 54 minute set of agreeable indie rock.
To this listener though the album feels like a let down. After introducing myself to their work on the aforementioned 'Foe' I delved back into the band's earlier work. To me, a lot of similarities can be found between Mines and the group's freshman LP 'I am the Fun Blame Monster'. Much like on 'Monster', Mines' songs are filled with twists and turns, vocals that seethe and yearn, and a complementary mix of pianos, horns, and drum tracks. But what separated 'Foe' from these two was the jagged edges, the unexpected twists, and the brash calamity of noises that often dissipated into sickly sweet conclusions. To me, this is what makes Menomena feel like a 'must see' band. One that is truly pushing the envelope, and embarking on sound collages too daring for those who wish to only sell records.
I can't in good conscience tell readers not to check the album out. It could be completely possible that my follow up expectations have led to my not so favorable conclusions. And by golly, this album IS GOOD. Those unfamiliar with the band might crap their pants in delight to finally discover their sound. Far be it from me to discourage you to listen, because it all actuality the album is the clever, concise work that the band has been promising all along. It never really drags, and parts seem to continue to dare listeners to think outside the verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus box. But it just hasn't pushed me like I really expected it would.