Review Summary: Menomena make the most out of nothing.
It’s been a long time since a semi-popular indie rock band has actually done something new and original. It seems that the genre has just been repeating itself too often recently, with little variety between bands. Sure, The Arcade Fire added more instruments to their sound with their newest effort, and The Shins made their sound even more derivative of 60s pop, but neither of those things is terribly original. So in this state of indie depression, what band could possibly save us?
Well…no. But at least they’re conscious of the fact that they aren’t doing too much on the originality end of the scale. Luckily, they made their main focus on fleshing out the standard songwriting formulas and using every single aspect of their music to the absolute maximum extent of sonic deliciousness. Baritone saxophones honk and squeal throughout the majority of Friend & Foe, accompanied by dashes of creepy synthesizer and overwhelming distorted guitar. Never quite settling into the quiet-loud-quiet formula that seems like the route most of their songs could take, Menomena always make a run for the unexpected. The most surprising thing is that it works every time. No note feels out of place in the warmly-produced world of Friend & Foe, and every song is the perfect length and style.
“Wet And Rusting” has haunting piano chords that float through the song, either right up front or hiding behind keyboards and acoustic guitar that don’t exactly fit with the piano, but somehow end up making sense anyway. Menomena are good at that type of thing. Whistling that could be taken from hiking scenes in old Disney movies begins “Boyskouts Sweetboyskouts,” which then becomes a pretty piano-based ballad for a minute or so, and then heads into a Yo La Tengo-esque guitar freakout section that lasts for another sweet minute, just providing more unexpected directions for Menomena’s music. “Evil Bee” has an underproduced Radiohead vibe to it, thanks in part to its bouncing bassline and electronic sounding drums. Horns that could be straight from Radiohead’s “National Anthem” even pop in towards the end. However, Menomena make sure that every instrument is specifically theirs, and the majestic sound of all of the songs is distinctly Menomena – no other band quite sounds like it.
So maybe Menomena aren’t the most original band of all time, but they do have their own sound that separates them from the majority of the bands in the indie rock scene right now. Dramatic crescendos and a hundred instruments are one way to evoke emotion, but Menomena do so with an alarmingly minimalist approach, squeezing out a feeling of desperateness in all of their music with only a few, well-placed instruments and melodies. And in such an overcrowded music scene, maybe the bare minimum is all a band really needs to be truly great.