When founding member Brent Knopf exited Menomena in early 2011, DEELER, the computer program he developed, may well have followed suit. Thats short for Digital Looping Recorder, and its how the band writes: by passing around a mic and recording directly into a ten-track loop sampler. Its brought forth some of the most pleasantly intricate pop arrangements this side of Elephant 6, but on 2010’s Mines, it resulted in some of the groups most tangled, maddeningly inorganic songwriting yet.
With Knopf’s departure, Moms is a welcome, and poignant, recharge. Recasting Menomena as a duo (Justin Harris and Danny Seim wrote five songs each, recording them together in their most collaborative and peaceful process yet), Moms strips away much of the self-consciously clever songcraft. It also reveals the bands most nakedly human batch of songs yet. Together, these are refreshingly fluid, unencumbered compositions well paired with the most personal lyrics Menomena have written.
The title, Moms, seems like an inside joke or a quirky riff on the similar-sounding Mines. In fact, its an uncharacteristically direct expression of the songs shared themes: family, maternal relationships, and aging. Harris was raised by a single mom (his Vietnam vet father walked out during his childhood). Seim lost his mother at 17. For the first time, the members havent shied away from discussing their lyrics. We thought it would be an interesting parallel, Seim told Pitchfork of his and Harris dual situations: the mom being really involved in your life and the mom being not involved in your life at all.
Harris’ tracks are especially direct. First single Heavy Is As Heavy Does declares itself the bands most dramatic track yet. Heavy are the branches hanging from my fucked up tree, Harris intones over somber piano rumbles. The indictment comes more sadly resigned than scathing as prideful as a man he was, proud my father never was of me but it ushers in a blistering guitar onslaught as abrasive as anything this side of The Pelican. Rightly titled, its Menomenas heaviest moment. Opener Plumage begins more innocuously, with looped handclaps and a basic two-chord synth pattern, but when the drums kick in around 1:30, Harriss voice grows sober: So long to my ideals/ I guess I ought to face my fears. A more confrontational buildup, Harris Pique hurtles into a guitar solo on this parental wallop: Now you made me/ With no clue as how to raise me . . . Now I’m a failure/ Cursed with male genitalia/ A parasitic fuck.
Confessional moments aside, Moms isnt exactly Tonights the Night this is still bright, lively indie-pop, full of color and flourish, with all the piano tinkles and studio trickery youve come to expect from the band. The songs are tighter and leaner than on Mines (One Horse throws off the mean), rarely wandering, with lyrical themes prevalent rather than all-consuming. Giftshoppe makes room for honking brass and swishy percussive loops, while Harris Dont Mess with Latexas is outright playful. (Its also the albums rare throwaway.)
Seims contributions are among the strongest. Capsule pushes into rough, Sleigh Bells-y guitar rock territory. Four minutes of groaning guitar and thick, distorted drum loops, its one of the albums best tracks, with surprisingly moving verses that seem to reflect on Seims loss: While Im evolving from a child to an aging child/ Youre maturing from a memory to a legacy. The singers voice grows distant towards the end, chopped and interrupted: We never talked, he bemoans, cellular telephone. Equally compelling, Baton sets Seims mournful self-reflection to thick, full-bodied indie-rock, with well-timed organ blasts and driving rhythm tracks. I wish I wasnt forced to rob a grave to pull you near, Seim sings, saving his most bracing reflection for the end: I wish I could remember if my last words were sincere/ I wish I could construct a better song for you, my dear.
At eight minutes, closer One Horse is the kicker. A gorgeous, sighing ramble through majestic strings, old-timey vocal samples, and live piano, its certainly the most ambitious piece here. It may also be the bands finest accomplishment period (that includes Wet and Rusting). Seims lyrics allude again to his loss (Sister sobbing in the kitchen / For you to stick around), but theyre looser here, lodged in dreamlike fragments, not open catharsis. “From dust to dust,” goes the closing refrain. “Roots will pass through us.” It’s not the sort of thing you can imagine three music geeks building on a Digital Looping Recorder.
Essential Tracks: “Capsule”, “Baton”, and “One Horse”