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08/07/2010 - 9:45pm
Menomena's Grand, Exploding "Mines"
Menomena have never been short on drama, and there is plenty of it on their fourth full-length (and third vocal album) Mines. And yet the tautness present on songs like “The Pelican” on their last album, 2007’s Friend and Foe, and likewise the brightness of that record’s “Muscle and Flow” give way to something more expansive on the new release. While the loops and funky horn stabs, jagged guitar and particularly the tinkling piano return, this is an album that reaches for and largely achieves something grander. As that album title suggests, there’s much to fear in the world of Mines. One false step and you never know what might happen. There’s hypocrisy and disenchantment, disappointment and souls crushed. On the other hand, there’s that music - so dense and stirring and dramatic it’s downright theatrical in places. It’s been more than three years since Friend and Foe, and here’s one record I can say it actually feels like it took that long to create. At least they ease us into it. Or do they? “Queen Black Acid” leads off with a unhurried, relaxed delivery – and yet barely a verse in, we’re in the midst of rabbit hole of a relationship and the proclamation: “You bring me down.” The drama builds, via piano (piano pervades Mines, often beautifully so), swells aaaand there’s the horns. Mines has a lot going for it, but nothing greater than next track “TAOS” – a small tour de force that plunges us into jagged guitar stabs, buzzing bluesy riffs and yelped vocals. A lyric that goes to the heart of a hook up – let’s use each other, there may be self doubt but who has time for that – is set to a jam that stops and starts – tinkling piano break followed by exploding blues rock chorus. “TAOS” is one of Menomena’s finest. The bombast borders on the overwrought toward the end of “Dirty Cartoons” which begins quirky and acoustic but finishes with a plaintive chorus of “I’d like to go home”, while “Tithe” seems to take aim at clerical hypocrisy, and the swirls and hi hat of “Killemall” provides a charming backdrop for a more troubling lyric. But it’s not until the latter part of Mines that paranoia and mounting dread really set in. There’s a ship figuratively sinking on the spiky, tightly wound “BOTE” (“I thought I was tough/ I thought I was quick/ Guess I met my match/Better stiffen up my lip”), on “Lunchmeat’, in which an unspecified but no less unsettling threat is at hand, and on “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy”, infused with unease, as our ubiquitous piano takes an ominous turn, and synth and sax collude with vocals that worry one’s love “is not enough”. On that note, there’s a gorgeous closer to the record, in “INTIL” (I Never Thought I’d Lie). The fear at play here? Nothing more complicated – or more universal – than being oneself. “Sometimes I’m with you/ I’m not really myself/ Cause you don’t want the truth/ You want someone else”. The questions remain unanswered, but at least our trusted friend the piano plays us out, with a false ending then coda. This record would seem to demand a grand live show, but when Menomena head out on the road this fall, so long as they’ve got a Bösendorfer grand, they should be good to go.