Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Menomena, Friend and Foe

Friend and Foe (Barsuk)
Grade: C

Download: Menomena - "Wet and Rusting"

Menomena's Friend and Foe is the most overrated record of the year. The odd thing about this record is that, while all of the songs on Friend and Foe have different stylistic foundations, every single melody on the record sound the same. They all have the same sort of siren-sounding, singsongy quality of children’s songs like “Ring around the Rosy.”

Normally, this wouldn’t bother me, as everyone likes singing along to singsongy melodies. But when you hear this type of melody in literally every song, it gets really annoying, really quickly.

The main reason, however, why this record is overrated is because once you get past the admittedly cool way that Menomena layers their sound and the way that their record is produced, you’ll find that Friend and Foe is just a sonic pastiche of better, more interesting bands. Essentially, Menomena sound like a blue-eyed soul version of TV on the Radio.

Friend and Foe begins with “Muscle N’ Flo,” a song about a certain grind of the day-to-day variety. The track begins with a brief, drum-heavy intro, before the vocals start hovering over a trance-inducing bass line. As "Muscle N' Flo" progresses, two guitars make their musical presence known; one with a low-fi fuzzy quality, the other a slide-guitar. Even further into the song, the listener hears a coda with a twinkling piano, a humming B3 Hammond Organ and, eventually, the addition of a rumbling brass section.

It's impressive that Menomena can have a varied amount of instrumentation and sonic trickery to their songs without having their compositions become complete messes. But the whole time I was listening to “Muscle N’ Flo,” I couldn't help but think of its resemblance to Wilco's song “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” (particularly the way that the cymbal crashes in each song).

What the two songs also have in common is that they kick off records that try to blend avant-garde arrangements with folksy melodies. The reason why a band like Wilco succeeds and a band like Menomena fails is that if you stripped away all of the ambience and quirky production touches that "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" has, you would still end up with something that's pretty great (i.e., the demo version of the song which opens the Wilco documentary).

Now imagine that you are stripping away the ambient and quirky ingredients of "Muscle N' Flo" or the tribal-drum enhanced "Air Aid" or the Beatles-esque pop of "Rotten Hell." What would you get?

For me, I got the realization that the parts of Friend and Foe are greater than its sum. This record is more about what's in the background of the songs (the arrangements, if you will), as opposed to the foreground (the melodic content of the songs themselves).

Having said that, Friend and Foe does have a few good songs on it. "My My" is an excellent piece of crescendo-rock, and "Boyscout N" has a group-whistled melody which gives the track a wonderfully demented sense of whimsy.

But all in all, I just wasn't impressed with Menomena, and I have to say that the hype surrounding their latest LP is utterly unwarranted.

(Jonathan Graef)

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Anonymous Todd said...

You're wrong.
You're just... so... wrong.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Norm said...

Oh man, I couldn't disagree more.

2:02 AM  

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