Menomena’s albums have always been patchworks of sorts, the three members sending musical ideas to one another through email and constructing songs using their own software. 2010’s excellent Mines sure didn’t sound pieced together, and the Portland three-piece again had another dense and stunning piece of ear candy on their hands. But the cracks were beginning to surface. Not long after the album’s release, Brent Knopf left the band to pursue his project Ramona Falls full-time. Remaining members Justin Harris and Danny Seim decided to carry on, uncertain of what exactly that would look like, or sound like for that matter. Two years later and one member down, Menomena still sounds like Menomena, and the band’s new long-player Moms shovels up another heaping earful of glorious noise.
An entire review could be spent just on the production, which is a big part of what makes Menomena so good. And Harris and Seim draw plenty of volume and separation throughout Moms. Drums clatter like a slightly less-intoxicated John Bonham. Bass and synths wrap themselves tightly around your skull, and the ambient textures that buzz in and out of earshot will make you swat at insects that aren’t there.
As with Mines, the songs receiving all this treatment are slightly less dark and jolting than they were on earlier recordings—for those who were drawn to the band’s more glitchy work, Moms might leave you feeling unsatisfied. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to devour here. Menomena use all their powers on “Capsule,” which opens with guttural guitar noise that flares up like a lit match and returns for one more brief appearance later in the song; the rest of the space is filled with a plunked bass line, skronky saxophone, flute and the usual assortment of extraterrestrial sounds. “Heavy Is As Heavy Does” drowsily lopes along, carried by a sparse piano line and a buzzing synth, and “Skintercourse” fronts as a ZZ Top song—if ZZ Top came from a far-off galaxy.
What separates Moms from the rest of the Menomena’s recorded output are the album’s lyrical themes. There are still hints of the band’s more surrealist word-sketches, but there are definitely specific themes here—getting older, and Harris and Seim’s relationships with their mothers (and fathers, for that matter). “Heavy are the branches hanging from my fucked-up family tree/And heavy was my father, a stoic man of pride and privacy,” Harris sings on “Heavy Is As Heavy Does,” a reference to his being raised by a single mother.
The personal nature of the lyrics shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s what makes Moms feel less like an exercise in sonic exploration, and more like a flesh-and-blood rock record that happens to also be an exercise in sonic exploration. Both members have said this was the easiest, most collaborative record they’ve ever made. If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, Moms certainly will.