Review Summary: This album is almost as fun to listen to as it is to say the band's name ten times fast. Menomenamenamenomenamenamenomenamenaetc.
As a matter of circumstance, Menomena were described to me as being a more 'interesting' Kings of Leon. And yes, sometimes they sound quite a lot like Kings of Leon and sometimes there's enough happening beneath their relatively orthodox rock rhythms to deem it 'more' interesting. As far as comparisons go, this one's doing nobody any favours. Not only does it cheapen Kings of Leon more than radio saturation ever could (or already has) but it emphasizes Menomena's process to a fault---not to their own, but instead to those interested in the ends of a song as much as its means.
Menomena is a band whose success relies quite heavily on their process, which for what it's worth---probably more than it should be---is pretty cool. The three members of Menomena all share vocal and instrumental duties, switching up who does what at will. There's certainly no shortage of talent to be found on Mines
. To make their varied approach work, they employ a looping program called Deeler. All of this is impressive and unique enough, but what I'm bothered by is the notion that their music is automatically elevated to levels of greatness simply because of the process. In some cases it can, and is, true; harkening back to an earlier description, openers “Queen Black Acid” and “Taos” sound quite a bit like Kings of Leon, but the former's varied percussion and wavering piano paired with the latter's energetic, intermittently placed blues licks, piano rolls and three part harmonies take two already solid rock tracks and elevate them to a higher level of excellence and run on sentences. Actually, “Taos” is the best example of this idea---showing the band succeeding with their energy as much as their studio wizardry, since it takes as much compositional ability to appropriately introduce a saxophone to a rock song as it does production skill to ensure it won't sound awful. “Killemall” threatens the opposite; the track's jogged pace and dreary aesthetic works on its own, making the occasional organ lines sound more than halfway ridiculous. Two thirds, maybe.
The over publication of Menomena's use of Deeler fails to mention the solid foundation on which their songs are written. Furthermore, it placates the band's faults and puts them on an imaginary higher plane, allegedly immune to any criticism because any detractors obviously just don't 'get it'. Deeler, in some cases, is explained in such a way that it becomes a crutch that gives their benefactors ground to turn their noses down to anyone who'd be so 'bold' as to refer to the band as 'merely' a rock band and one that handcuffs them into using modifiers like 'more interesting'.
The band has obviously found a balance their fans have yet to embrace. Or realize. Or accept. When that balance fluxes into an overuse of 'variety', songs like “Lunchmeat” become tedious exercises. While “Lunchmeat” is ultimately one of the stronger tracks on Mines
, the minute plus of noodling in its intro is a useless throwaway. Sure, it introduces some of the loops and instruments that make the track a pulsating (if eerily reminiscent of the Flaming Lips) success, it (the intro) doesn't sound good, go anywhere or serve any obvious purpose other than to exist simply because it can. “Oh Pretty Boy, You're Such a Big Boy” is similarly dissimilar; its early exercises would threaten the song's substance were there enough of it to be threatened in the first place. “Pretty Boy” struggles because it can't make its mind up. Like the intro to “Lunchmeat” it goes nowhere. Half of the track is empty and its hooks aren't cushioned by anything but uncooked noodling. Worse, “Five Little Rooms” is good enough to make it (“Pretty Boy”) even more disposable. The same can almost be said of “Sleeping Beauty,” which is one-third whose build-up (to what basically comes out as a refrain) is worth the wait.
is one of the better rock albums to come out this year, and yes, it's interesting. But when you're listening to it, don't forget that its quirks are nothing without the songs themselves, and, as “Pretty Boy” shows us, not the other way around.