The thing about Portland art rockers Menomena was that they were such an utterly collaborative force–their live shows akin to watching three guys play a game of musical chairs with the instruments onstage. As a result, when Brent Knopf left the group early last year to focus on his Ramona Falls side project, it was difficult to know what to expect. Prophet is Knopf’s second full-length as Ramona Falls but his first since officially leaving his old band. While not surprisingly, the album doesn’t quite match Menomena’s genre-pushing experimentation, it still manages to pack its fair share of enjoyable moments and arty twists into its 11 tracks.
On “The Space Between Lightning and Thunder”, Knopf sings, “I guess it’s now or never/to tell you how I’m feeling” behind a dark, pulsing piano riff. The deeply personal declaration serves as the album’s mission statement and marks the sound of a musician with a new modus operandi. No longer restrained by the group dynamic, tracks like “Spore” exude a candid introspection, both sonically and lyrically, that may even remind some of former labelmates Death Cab for Cutie.
With this new, more personal touch, however, we in turn lose much of the electrifying unpredictability that characterized Knopf’s past work. Complete with a handclap breakdown and “ohh ahh” backing vocals, “Archimedes Plutonium” comes across as a shiny, yet ultimately safe-sounding effort. Similarly, the orchestral exuberance on “Fingerhold” and “If i Equals u” floats very close to the surface, failing to challenge the listener.
On Prophet, Knopf plays it by the book. In this sense, the most surprising thing about the album is how unsurprising it is. Knopf gets by, though, thanks to his raw skills as a crafter of songs, which are abundantly clear throughout. There’s hardly a moment that doesn’t engage the listener or any track that stands out as being completely hopeless. Just don’t go throwing out your copy of Mines quite yet.
Essential Tracks: “Spore”, “Brevony”