Label: Barsuk Records
Release Date: September 18th
Every once in a while life throws up a small moment where the only option for those involved is to take a step back, take a deep breath, and set about redefining themselves. For Menomena, and more specifically Justin Harris and Danny Seim, this moment came when band co-founder Brent Kopf decided to up-sticks and concentrate on his solo material. While we can never know the true in-and-outs of what happened in the immediate aftermath, we can imagine that, after ten years and four full-length albums, the discussion regarding whether or not to carry on at all was a prevalent one.
Whatever the fruits of those conversations were, the two men decided to plough on regardless. Rather than look outward and find ways of replacing Brent, they chose to look inward; at fractured pasts and adult desires, and they set about creating a record that would hold its own against their own back-catalogue, which is one of the most stimulating and fruitful in the whole of the staple-American-indie-rock cannon.
Carrying on as ‘Menomena‘ meant that they would have to find some way of making this record sound like a ‘Menomena record’; which is maybe easier said than done when you’ve just lost 33% of what gave you that sound in the first place. Rather than find a replacement, Justin and Danny have found slight but completely competent ways of adding bulk – if you will – to the tracks that make up Moms. It should also be noted that it never feels like they’ve over-indulged simply to cover up the gaps. The new ideas and new instrumentation are subtle and brilliantly used. It feels like a progression and it feels like a Menomena record. It’s also completely, and brilliantly, dazzling.
Despite Brents departure it should be pointed out that Menomena were doing absolutely nothing wrong. Their previous album, Mines, was a wonderfully daring and challenging pop record which showed true progression. And ‘progression‘ is a perfect word to attribute to them as a band; and it’s something that is fully on show again here, from the real-life tap-dancing percussion that flutters in the background throughout Don’t Mess With Laxetas – perfectly understated, not to mention delightful – to the poetic and abstruse shuffle of Pique; a track which is ably backed by signature brass squeals and jittery electric guitar lines.
The first-taster from the LP came in the form of Heavy Is As Heavy Does and it remains one of the albums stand-out tracks; spinning a tale upon which the rest of the record is wound around. “Heavy are the branches, hanging from my fucked-up family tree,” sings Harris over the top of some darkly affecting piano; relating a story of broken families and the hollowness that comes from such circumstances. It’s a heart-on-sleeve lament that perhaps offers up the records most down-beat outlook. That title, however, is shared with Moms‘ adieu, which comes courtesy of the mammoth ‘One Horse‘; an ostentatious but sumptuous triumph of cinematically dramatic strings, purring vocals and rising tension. More than anything though, that track in particular shows a giant dollop of self-belief and, therein, lies the key to this records success.
While the essence of Moms lay with an unexpected departure, don’t go into this record expecting the same. Sure, it’s a uniquely vigurous and vivid account of familial anxieties and the shackles they hold, but it’s also intrepid, playful and hopelessly exuberant. More importantly though, it’s a Menomena record through-and-through; and that’s always something to rejoice.
Words by Tom Johnson