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Early Listening: Menomena - Mines

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​There was once a time when Menomena was fresh on the Portland indie rock scene. It was 2003 and the band had just self-released their debut album I Am The Fun Blame Monster! to a rather impressive critical acclaim (P4K gave it a 8.7). In true Portland/DIY fashion, the band included a self-assembled, 88-page flip book as part of the album, something the band members assembled while working at Kinko's -- which has had a history of cultivating some of Portland's finest minds (see the entry for Tres Shannon).

Intuitive whimsy was Menomena's strong point, yet the band also produced some of the most promising indie rock to come out of Portland since The Decemberists. Mines, the band's fourth full-length, sees a band matured in their years, recording music for a bona fide label while still managing to capture that fantastical DIY approach from the band's formative years.

Mines is the band's second album to be released on Barsuk Records, and it carries with that distinction some pretty weathered chops. The polish is abundant on the album, which is quite a feat given the band's penchant for using a rather impressive array of instruments and sounds. On any given Menomena track, one might hear some baritone guitar, a foot synthesizer, both alto and baritone saxophone and a glockenspiel. Convention knows hardly any bounds when Menomena is involved.

Mines gets started with the lumbering "Queen Black Acid," a slow-builder of an opener. The song is a teaser of sorts while also being a fantastic display of Menomena's multilayered sound. The three members of the band -- Brent Knopf, Justin Harris and Danny Seim -- all share singing duties while also rotating instruments. While different members sing rather similarly, it gives the band's music a very exotic, scattered feel -- one that doesn't distract from the band's vision and polish. "Taos," the album's second track showcases how different the band can sound in no more than one song's time. Gone are the slow, crescendo-building arrangements of "Queen Black Acid," replaced with the frenetic, fuzzed-out guitars of "Taos."

The sluggish "Dirty Cartoons" proves that Menomena can still be insanely listenable when recording a slower, more caustic song. Piano keys and a tambourine add an edge to the song that has yet been unforeseen on the album, and it's merely the fourth song. "Oh Pretty Boy, You're Such a Big Boy" sees the band at it's most synth-driven, proving that electronic/indie will always have a stronghold in Portland's music scene (see: Starfucker, Glass Candy, YACHT, The Blow).

Seeing the band progress from I Am The Fun Blame Monster!'s "The Late Great Libido" to a song like the rollickingly catchy "Killemall" from Mines is something really remarkable. I used to view Menomena as one of the up and coming Portland bands for a while -- a band that hasn't quite found their signature album and, thus, foothold in the Rose City's pantheon of bands. Mines proves that Menomena is a force in today's indie rock scene -- let alone Portland's

Mines is out 7/27 via Barsuk. Menomena will play The Clubhouse Saturday, September 18. Tickets are $14 advance/$15 at the door.

The tracklist for Mines is as follows:

1. queen black acid 

2. taos 
3. killemall 
4. dirty cartoons 
5. tithe 
6. bote 
7. lunchmeat 
8. oh pretty boy, you're such a big boy 
10. sleeping beauty 
11. intil

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