Menomena is so weird it makes me giddy. The Portland, OR, band named its first album I Am the Fun Blame Monster, which is an anagram of "the first Menomena album." It favors baritone sax almost as much as it uses guitars, and the band even wrote its own software to compose its utterly bizarre songs. Yet, Menomena manages to pull off all this weirdness while making music that's entirely accessible, utterly unpretentious, and — in the case of its new album, Friend and Foe (Barsuk Records) — hypnotically catchy.
In fact, it's astounding that such fun pop songs can be crafted from a songwriting process that's downright dizzying. Not only does Menomena sound unlike any other band out there, but each off-kilter song draws on the band's formula in a completely different way. To read the rest of my take and hear a song off the album,
To create the songs on Friend and Foe, Menomena records each respective part then — using software called Deeler — breaks those recordings down into a series of loops. Those loops are then reassembled into a sort of sound collage that forms the basis for each song. Broken off bits of rhythm section crash into each other, while piano melodies collide with explosions of saxophones and menacing bass lines.
Some tracks are heavily jazz-influenced, while others hint at the dystopian sketches of Tom Waits. "The Pelican" starts as a forlorn Bowie-esque piano ballad, before being suddenly tackled by a gang of lurching guitars, cymbals, and snares. Meanwhile, the vocal melody on "My My" could easily fit into a number of indie-rock songs, but its backdrop — including an eerie organ and skittish, fuzzy electronic effects — make it a truly unique feat of songwriting. Though the weirdness of Friend and Foe may be off-putting at first, by the end you'll find yourself thanking Menomena for radically reinventing how a pop song can sound.
SAMPLE TRACK: Menomena, "Wet and Rusting"