It’s hard to think of Menomena topping Friend And Foe. After all, that album made #3 on my Retrospective Top Albums of 2007. But they make a fair attempt with Mines. There’s plenty of solidity here, from opener “Queen Black Acid” to the final track, “Intil”. I guess only time will tell.
Perhaps the most distinct change between Friend and Mines can be found in the percussion, to the point where you’d almost think they made a Spinal Tap like switch — they did not. On Friend, the drumming was monumental, enormous, gigantic. Here, it’s refined and restrained, and occasionally double-timed. The skill, too has increased significantly — so it’s no wonder it sounds like a whole new creature on the sticks.
From the dark, dreamy opening track, Menomena launches into “Taos” which holds a bit more relation to their prior library of work. Loud and occasionally abrasive, it has that heavy, bold in-your-face sound familiar to songs like “Pelican” and “Boyscout’n”. Then they return to the brooding piano sounds and skilled percussion in “Killemall”.
Still, a lot remains the same. Mines follows the same path as before; Menomena still produces a wildly original blend of rock, favoring plays on volume, meshing unique instruments for sounds you simply will not hear anywhere else. This is perhaps heard best on “Dirty Cartoons”, where minimalist rock is given a fresh face and Menomena dabbles in choral vocals (yet again). Then percussion takes over in the breathtaking beginning of “Tithe”. And baritone saxophone, a Menomena signature, returns in full force early in “Five Little Rooms”. Not to mention the immense greatness of closing track “Intil”.
There is great potential for Mines to overtake its predecessor as being a better album, although it will likely take time. It will be difficult to top songs like “Rotten Hell”, “The Pelican” and “Muscle ‘N Flo”, but with power tracks like “Queen Black Acid”, “Five Little Rooms” and “Intil”, there’s a good chance it might. Menomena has never been an easy pill to swallow; their albums have always been growers often taking two to three listens to see beyond minor oddities, to see the vast greatness this band possesses. Mines again places Menomena on a pedestal, high above mediocrity, high above the commonplace, on a spire all its own.
Download: “Five Little Rooms” by Menomena
Download: “TAOS” by Menomena
Barsuk Records [CD, 2010]
1. Queen Black Acid
4. Dirty Cartoons
8. Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such A Big Boy
9. Five Little Rooms
10. Sleeping Beauty