Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
It shouldn't be taken for granted, when a band can hold us rapt with both the things that it does and the things that it refrains from doing. It takes a great band to make you appreciative of the action and the inaction, those moments when it could flaunt its chops and give more than is necessary for the song, but instead, it surprises you with its ability to put the song on ice for a second or two because the quiet will empower that song twenty times as much as any clutter might. Portland, Oregon's Menomena has long been masterful with its precision with and the attentiveness paid to the very needs of a song, as if it were a parent tending to his or her children, knowing immediately when something's not right, as if it were a sixth sense. The band, which was made up of Brent Knopf, Justin Harris, Danny Seim and Joe Haege during the taping of this session, has always been great about caretaking, just as they've always been great with inventive and remarkable musical moments that could probably only come from writers and musicians who throw everything against the wall to see what sticks and then they choose to keep half of what sticks - saving ideas and leaving the laboratory with what likely is the best possible outcome. They write songs that are populated by brilliant and stunning thoughts, along with the sorts of withholdings and open ranges that make for lovely pieces of art that can be chewed upon and dug into deeply for new intricacies that continue unfolding and revealing themselves.
Menomena is a band that rewards its listener in more ways than one, with songs that seem to come from minds unable to turn off, given to characters who have been bedeviled by the collisions of multiple forces and those bursts of unscripted waves and waters that strike in flashes. The feelings and the sounds that the emotive group offers are seeking explanations and realize that there may be none forthcoming, just more head scrambling and confusions. They give us hauntings and they frame those haunted worries that worm their way into our souls with compassion and melancholy. They write as if they have uncovered a nest of abandoned baby rabbits, unsure if they will freak out and strain with their bony, furry and scared bodies should a pair of cupped hands reach down to try and help them. There are slow movements, chances for those bunnies to sniff and suss out whether or not great danger is upon them or if they should accept the help because, down deep, they feel as if a car may have gotten mommy and she's not ever coming back. The songs on the band's latest full-length, "Mines," and the final one with Knopf - who announced that he was leaving the band last month to pursue his other project, Ramona Falls, more fully - are made up of the crushed pieces of a charmed moon, gorgeous in its blue-gray glow, soft on the eyes and yet, damaged somewhat, in ribbons on the ground. It will lie there, still majestic, bucking, kicking like something that's still got some life inside it, the blood getting to parts of it, strangely enough. Menomena demurs, just as it ripples with energy, just as it sweetly descends and softly objects the ghosts.