I would be lying if I were to say that the music of Menomena was not ingrained into my own musical landscape. I remember going to a brief stint in therapy, listening to “The Monkey’s Back” on repeat for hours on end, and commuting to Portland for college with nothing but Friend and Foe playing in one ear (my headphones were broken). They were also the second concert I attended in Portland. To say that I’m not slightly critical would be… well, bullshit.
Friend and Foe has gotten a lot of breathing room over the last three very long years, and six since the debut I Am The Fun Blame Monster! Yet, the songs on these two albums, such as Fun Blame closer “The Monkey’s Back,” still sounds vital, and Friend and Foe opener “Muscle n’ Flo,” after as many times as I’ve heard it, is still worthy of chanting along with in the shower. The question, I suppose, is this: are the songs here on Mines going to be as good as those three years ago, after they’ve teased with a new album for so long?
The short answer, to spare you the suspense, it yes, absolutely. Mines opens on perhaps the most understated song of the band’s career, “Queen Black Acid,” one that is actually fairly old at this point. It also finds the band in a much more heart-on-sleeve place, somewhere that we haven’t seen since the aforementioned “The Monkey’s Back,” or Friend and Foe highlight “Boyscout’n.” “I’ve made myself an open book / I’ve made myself a sitting duck,” Brett Knopf howls in the all-too-telling chorus of the song. However, the downplay of the song only lasts the length of its boundaries, when “TAOS” brings us out of the slump and right back into the head space that made “Weird” a flawless track.
“OH! I bet I know what you like! At LEAST I know what you might!” Knopf howls at the beginning of “TAOS.” It’s the perfect juxtaposition, and easily one of the band’s best song to date. “I’m a social mess, but not yet slurring,” our suave narrator intones, in a perfectly crafted morality tale about a “wolf covered in fleece.” Subtle, the track isn’t, but really subtlety was never the band’s forte, was it? The cut finds the band in extremely high spirits, and sets the stage for the highly-layered album to come.
Mines finds the band in a much different head space, and with this comes a much different sound, somewhere in between sounding exactly like the Menomena of the past, and nothing at all like the Menomena of the past. The bleak tone of “Killemall,” where Danny Seim asks if you’ve strangled your ghost amidst the tempest of blasted drum beats and itchy guitars, conveys this in a razor-sharp fashion. “BOTE,” later on the album, is a dense thicket of Modest Mouse guitars and noise howling above ocean of noise, portraying singer-as-sea-captain: “I thought I could handle anyone who came along / But the worth of a boat is how well it floats / and this old boat won’t float for long with all these holes.”
“INTIL,” the album’s finale, in many ways, follows in the tradition of the last two albums by ending on an intense mess of a song (“West” of Friend and Foe, anyone?), but in others takes the band somewhere they simply haven’t been before. “You don’t want the truth / You want someone else,” our singer muses behind the wash of plinking piano and a positively hypnotizing drum beat. It all slowly, very slowly, builds and builds and then… simply vanishes. Here, even the hidden blip of sound that follows the radio silence of every album is an all-too-short wash of twinkling bells. Beautiful.
After the critical boom following the release Friend and Foe, it’s clear that the band felt the need to hone their skills, and Mines serves as proof that one of the most solid bands running can get even better with age. “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such A Big Boy” is living proof of this, as one of the album’s standout tracks, where our singer croons about how he fears he’s showing his age, and you truly feel for him in the track. Mines is an album that’s not quite all about growing old and growing up, but it does the trick of conveying all of the feelings perfectly. Mines is Menomena at, somehow, a more mature place than they were before, and with every album, they just get even better at what they were always the best at doing. It’s all nothing short of amazing.