Sunday, January 17, 2010

Menomena- Friend and Foe

    Any of you who watch bad 70’s karate movies will be familiar with the words “drunken master”. For those who aren’t, it’s a fighting style which seeks to imitate the stumbling unpredictability of being completely shithoused, but maintaining impeccable balance so as to overcome one’s opponents while confusing them. If the aforementioned is the result of kung-fu monks and alcohol, then Menomena is what happens when black-belt music students find LSD. The only apt comparison to their heavily orchestrated and reeling style is The Flaming Lips, but Coyne & Co. are just their logical jumping off point. On Friend and Foe, this Portland trio takes quirky layering, slaps on some inside-out guitars, and fills in the cracks with saxophones, trombones, glockenspiels, jingling keys, and whatever else they can claim to play. Gadzooks! Unlike the similarly off-the-walls Man Man, whose knack for secondary instrumentation is dotted with nonsense call-and-response shouts, Menomena’s recordings remain downtempo, professional, and somehow natural.

    The cool thing about Menomena remains that they don’t have a “frontman” per se. Every one of the three members takes singing duties in turn (and sometimes concurrently, for harmonizing purposes), and each are capable of playing at least 10,000 instruments each. So that might seem like an overstatement, but who are you going to believe, your common sense or the internet? Moving onward- percussionist Danny Seim (who I would like to believe is somehow related to Hella’s Spencer Seim), lends some genius beats and keeps up with dozens of come-and-go orchestrations without overplaying. This is especially true of the gorgeous “Wet and Rusting”, a rainy day soundtrack candidate which lays acoustic guitars, synths, and mirages of piano over a sad-eyed spider’s web bass.

    As you may have guessed, this is a musician’s album. Everything in their composition is both tremendous and unique, but the lyrics aren’t quite at the same level. Their words compliment the music well, and all three singers have equally enthralling voices, but “Oh in the morning/I stumble/my way towards/the mirror and my makeup/it's light out/and I now/face just what I'm made of” is about the best this record has to offer, making lyrics a negligible stumbling block. This is more than made up for by the consistency of Friend and Foe, which remains impressive throughout (as opposed to the last few reviews, which have been top-heavy let-downs). I’ve been waiting to say it: Friend and Foe is phenomenomenal.

Friend and Foe

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