Menomena Friend and Foe

[Barsuk; 2007]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: experimental, psychedelic pop, fractured rock
Others: The Flaming Lips, The Shins

Menomena were lucky enough to be swept into the blog buzz bin thanks to the clever and angular I Am the Fun Blame Monster. The music geeks of indie kingdom were happy to anoint the Portland band the next great thing just as silence fell over Menomena’s camp. The people grew restless — when you’re the next great thing, there are large expectations to begin dropping albums at least once a year. Menomena carefully bided their time before giving bloggers and coattail riders Under An Hour, another brilliant albeit lengthy composition based around pieces created for interpretive dance. The buzz grew bigger and louder; any band capable of making interpretive dance and its accompaniment interesting had to possess some mystical power. Indie geek royalty were prepared to give Menomena Merlin’s old spot at the Round Table as the band promised a proper follow-up to I Am the Fun Blame Monster.

The courtship is over with the release of Menomena’s latest, Friend and Foe. Trading in some of their DIY credentials for the brighter lights of Barsuk, perhaps some of the luster has faded from Menomena. There aren’t any new magic tricks or slight of hand — just good old-fashioned overpolishing and production. Friend and Foe doesn’t lack the fire and brimstone of previous releases — the better description is that Friend and Foe is more of the same.

“More of the same” is not exactly a negative phrase — there are plenty of artists who specialize in a distinct sound; The Flaming Lips and The Shins are two quick examples. No matter the approach, that distinct sound rarely changes, and perhaps by design, Menomena are sticking to what they know best. It’s almost certain that fans of I Am the Fun Blame Monster are going to flip for Friend and Foe. It’s more of the sweet psychedelics and mind-altering pop of old, but factoring in the chances Menomena took during Under An Hour’s three compositions, Friend and Foe certainly seems like a calculated step back to what the band believe they do best.

While Menomena’s sound has matured and their musical prowess has grown considerably, similarities between songs of old and new are unmistakable. Taking “Boyscout’n,” from Friend and Foe, and “Monkey’s Back,” off of I Am the Fun Blame Monster, the slow build-up to the emotional climax and the well-timed musical interjections desperate to throw you for a loop seem to happen in many of the same places. This time, however, the surprise just isn’t there. Walls of reverb and syncopated cymbal crashes become awkward and less stunning the more they are called upon. Likewise, “Muscle n’ Flo” neatly parallels “E. Is Stable.” Though “Muscle n’ Flo” begins bombastically, it soon devolves into a slide guitar riff strikingly similar in style and speed to its predecessor. The waterfall of twinkling piano that soon follows is also a close relative to that of “E. Is Stable.” The bass- and drum-led “Air Aid” is just as congested and lumbering as “Trigga Hiccups.”

Menomena seem doomed to stroll the same path as their musical brethren. It certainly doesn’t make them less of a band, just less interesting. The pizzazz of I Am the Fun Blame Monster seems a little cheapened thanks to the nearly identical Friend and Foe. Consider this a plea to any and all Portland-based interpretive dance groups: seek out Menomena and please ask them to score the music to your next piece.

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