June 7, 2010

Menomena's MINES (part 2): a track by track review

If you're confused by this post, click here to read my initial review of Menomena's new album Mines, set to be released July 27 on Barsuk Records. Below is an attempt to evaluate/describe each track on the album. I take for granted that I'm only scratching the surface.

Queen Black Acid - Although I'm still unsure what to make of the title, my appreciation for this song has grown significantly since first hearing it. It sets things up quite well, but the allusions to Alice in Wonderland are a bit lame. The minimal instrumentation of the first minute and thirty seconds really prepares you for the spaciousness of the chorus, thanks in part to that tremendous baritone saxophone. Down the rabbit hole I go.

TAOS - During this song I keep anticipating the massive drum fill and in that sense it's the biggest tease on the album: so much anticipation. But somehow "TAOS" delivers, if only for a few fleeting moments. Those sax fills could be samples taken from an early 90s sitcom. It's probably the best rock song on the album, the most out of control guitar is harnessed, nicely mirroring the interior/exterior struggle of our socially inept protagonist: "Underneath this fleshy robe lies a beast with no control. O my God bring me peace from this wolf clothed in sheep fleece. O my God set me free for I have no ability to cut my leash and walk away."

Killemall - From the title you might think this was a shout out to Metallica and maybe it is, but this song is far more subdued than I first expected. The verses are wonderfully sinister. It sounds like burning arrows flying through the air. It's about the devil, it's the harrowing of hell! But wait! The chorus is the most happy-go-lucky thing I've ever heard from Menomena. What am supposed to do with this?

Dirty Cartoons - A standout, ripping good song that ends with a very impotent, churchy version of the chorus, which nearly seems to undo the awesome darkness of the chorus' initial rendition. Like I've said before, Menomena are masters of context. As with other songs of theirs, "Dirty Cartoons" demonstrates that mood and tone are contingent upon a variety of contextual ingredients; in other words, the meaning of a song can shift with the flick of a switch or the removal one instrument from the mix.

Tithe - The xylophone beginning is a bit disheartening, but the eerie chords of a grand piano sound like they're echoing through a hollow church building. Here, Menomena actually goes for a devotional melody, but the lyrics are an ironic step back ("nothing sounds appealing") - could this be a bit of self-deprication? The song is full of dystopic imagery. The rapture comes and goes. Ho hum.

BOTE - Very reminiscent of TV on the Radio; and sounds like a musical companion to "The Pelican," with that baritone sax groove. It eventually shifts into a very catchy verse that's full of nautical ("BOTE"?) imagery and some gospel harmonies. The solo almost sounds like it could have been lifted from U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky." This song manages to sustain the feeling that all hell is about to break loose: "Oh sea legs please don't fail me now."

Lunchmeat - At first I thought this was bit underwhelming, but when the bass hook kicks in (with the long overdue drumline), I must admit I'm totally slayed by this song. There's a strange interlude about halfway through (with a mandolin?), right before the big hook is finally delivered. And again, I'm at Menomena's mercy.

Oh Pretty Boy, You're Such a Big Boy - This strangely concocted song has a fantastic groove: the ascending bassline that switches back and forth from sax to piano is ridiculously catchy. I'm also not sure what to make of the title, but the usual themes are present here: "All your love is not enough to fill my half-empy cup." No shortage of religious imagery here!

Five Little Rooms - The lead single is typically cryptic and rollicking. And it sounds massive. After painting an eerie picture of modern suburban life, we get the line "All this could be yours some day" sung repeatedly. Should we be grateful or pissed off? I love the bombast of the drums two and a half minutes in. For a much more insightful take on the song, check out cokemachineglow's track review (they're also streaming the song!).

Sleeping Beauty - I think I love this song, but I feel somewhat guilty for it. It may be one of the hokiest tracks on the album, but Menomena manage to make it interesting and compelling. The sing-along portion at the end goes for the triumphant rock anthem finale. I'm only slightly embarrassed.

INTIL - This closing track seems very much akin to what you'd find at the end of a Radiohead album. The plodding piano chords, the deadly slow tempo, the drawn out distancing of our singer from the last 40 minutes of music. It's almost like an apology for the audacity of such an adrenaline-filled album (INTIL is an acronym for the line "I never thought I'd lie - still haven't figured out the other acronyms - BOTE, TAOS - any help?): "I admit sometimes I say too much." A satisfying way to end.

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