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Just when I thought they were out, Menomena pulled themselves right back into the world of alternative talent.
I’ve been cheering on multi-instrumentalists Justin Harris and Danny Seim since ex-member Brent Knopf left the original trio in 2010. I worried that after the departure of the founding member, it would only be a matter of time before one of my favorite bands would be lost to the “indefinite hiatus” abyss, or even worse, they would hit the sophomore slump three albums late.
After listening to their fifth release “Moms” now out on Barsuk Records, I know that I had no reason to worry about Menomena disappearing.
Why, you may ask? Because “Moms” is everything Menomena stands for musically. Standard instruments like drums and piano supplying intricate rhythms and melodies; random assortments of instruments including horns, flute, tamborine and synth; changing time signatures and tempos in the middle of songs; and Harris’ beautiful, buttery baritone harmonizing with Seim’s tenor — ah yes, it’s all here.
The only difference between the sound of the original trio and the duo sans Knopf is the lack of Knopf’s vocals and songwriting. Honestly though, if I hadn’t known that Knopf had left, I would have thought they were still on the original line-up. Harris and Seim manage to move beyond Knopf’s influence while still maintaining that core, experimental sound that is central to their songwriting.
As far as each individual song’s sound, they are all miles apart from one another, yet another trademark of the Menomena brand. After listening to the album once, I could tell which song was playing just by listening to the first five seconds of any random track. From the somewhat bluesy and coincidentally heavy “Heavy Is As Heavy Does,” to the groovy electric “Tantalus,” every song has its own personality. The themes in the lyrics also tend to match the themes in the instrumentation backing them.
It’s hard to pick which song is the best off the album, but if I had to choose based off of play-count, it would be a tie between “Plumage,” a poppy and driving love song that turns a potential lover into a metaphorical bird in heat, and “Baton,” a rock-influenced song containing cryptic lyrics about a dead former girlfriend. It may sound weird, but that’s the exact weirdness that Menomena fans know and love.
The best part of “Moms,” and honestly any Menomena album, is Harris’ voice. That sweet, deep true baritone that sometimes slips into the tenor range, with his occasional cracks had me swooning. I don’t know what Harris looks like, but I have a crush on him based solely on his voice. Harris’ voice melts my heart more than a pair of puppies playing tug-of-war ever could (And that image melts my heart. A lot.).
Of course, Harris would have nothing to sing without backing instrumentation. The drums in “Moms” are never in simple 4/4 time and the rhythms switch up often, especially through different movements of the songs. The guitar, though not often featured, shreds through quickly in short segments of several songs, including “Plumage,” “Capsule,” “Pique” and “Skintercourse.”
Along with the drums, guitar and piano, Harris and Seim also throw in a variety of non-traditional instruments as accompaniments, like synth in “Baton” and “Pique,” horns in “Don’t Mess With Latexas,” flute in “Capsule” and tamborine in “One Horse.” This wide variety of instrumentation is what allows Harris and Seim to write such a diverse, interesting and entertaining collection of songs like “Moms.”
Fellow Menomena fans, if you were as anxious about the release of “Moms” as I was, don’t worry. It’s everything we could have hoped for and more.
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.firstname.lastname@example.org.