No description of Menomena’s distinct clamor, even the good ones, feels like it completely captures the band. You could describe the Portland three-piece as experimental rock (they did make their own sampling machine), but that ignores their traditional classic-rock songwriting. You could say they are like a ‘70s art band (or TV on the Radio), but that overlooks how great these guys are with a hook. Simply, Menomena are a band that sounds completely familiar but totally different. Ironically, the band’s distinct sound is probably what has kept them on the indie fringe for so long. Here they are, still on Barsuk, when they should at the very least be on the last page of some major label’s coffers.
That underexposure has no affect on Menomena’s music, however. Their fourth album, Mines, is yet another splendid display of fractured pop rock (as close as I can get to an accurate descriptor) that stylistically shares much in common with its nearly perfect predecessor, Friend or Foe. Mines is one of the rare albums that took three years to record and actually sounds like it (it very nearly became the indie rock Detox). Everything here is meticulously crafted like the stone statue on the cover. But it’s not a fussy album. Give it time to breathe, and it’ll slowly attach itself to your subconscious.
Mines opens with the long-gestating and excellent “Queen Black Acid,” one of the more traditionally accessible tracks in Menomena’s oeuvre. It showcases everything Menomena do so well; there are the lilting harmonies, the textural use of the bass and wormhole guitar solos. The stomping “Five Little Rooms” is another highlight, with its frantic instrument changing, honking saxophones and taunting abstract lyrical digressions about McDonald’s and shopping malls.
Apart from the slight lag toward the album’s center, nearly all of the Mine’s songs could be described in gushing tones — specifically the dusty blues of “Dirty Cartoons,” and the ‘60s rock swagger of “Taos.” Menomena fans might be disappointed that Mines isn’t the kind of stylistic turn the band took their last full-lengths (their second album, Under an Hour, was written for an experimental dance troupe). But with results this grand, why try anything else?