The first thing that “Mines” brings to mind is a domestication of the Menomena sound, an effort to rid their songs of the more schizophrenic side of their beginnings. From the extraterrestrial “The Fun Blame Monster” (one of the most overwhelming debuts of the decade and a work one senses will be increasingly difficult to surpass) to this last work with more pleasant layers, one gets the feeling that their fascinating fusion of experimentation and classicism is growing more and more formal. Unfortunately, it’s not with as sublime results as their peers TV On The Radio achieved with “Dear Science”. The thing is that listening to “Mines” one is surprised by the possibility that the third point of the triangle that includes Morphine and The Flaming Lips in their range of similar sounds could be occupied by Coldplay in a Gothic mood–listen to “Killemall”. Is this negative? In theory no, even the laziest listeners will be thankful, but for those of us who have been following the trio from Portland since the beginning, this manoeuvre shows that something is starting to slip. To say it another way: with “Mines”, Menomena have stopped asking questions and started giving answers.
“Mines” is perfect as a hypothetical introduction to the group, a first step that would take us little by little towards the successive finds enclosed by their discography. But compared with them, and allowing ourselves a play on words like those that the album’s authors like so much, we would say that this field littered with “mines” explodes less and less all the time. Reasons? The first ones hit you right in the eye in the events surrounding the launch. Brent Knopf (also in Ramona Falls) has been very busy lately. Danny Seim and Justin Harris say that, between tours and various commitments, it’s more of the same. The three expected to put out “Mines” in the fall of 2008, a date that was later moved to January of 2009, and which was finally put off until now, a year and a half further down the line. The arguments surrounding the eternal gestation of the album didn’t do much to raise spirits either: none of them were happy with the songs that the others wanted to choose, and it was hard to reach a tacit agreement. One wanted the resulting album to last 35 minutes and another of them, 140. And all of this affects songs that don’t sound as fresh, as nervous, and that seem to develop by taking confusing circumstances as their point of departure. “Mines” is weighed down by all of this like a curse. A quote from Seim on Barsuk’s website says it all: “In the wake of brutal disagreements, unrelenting grudges and failed marriages (not to mention a world full of modern terrorism, natural disasters and economic collapse) somehow this band is still standing.” He might be joking, but he couldn’t be more right.
The constant perceptiveness of “I Am the Fun Blame Monster” and the good indie lyrics that “Friend and Foe” extracted from all of the 80s rock detritus aren’t the same on “Mines”. For the first time, we find the group hasn’t warmed up before the game. Everything that plays here is Menomena, but we don’t find everything here that Menomena stands for. As happens with the imminent “Strange Weather, Isn’t It?” by !!!, “Mines” gives you the feeling that they have switched on the cruise control, and this is something that is almost a sin for a band that has always been characterised by its air of “difference” and “originality.” The feeling of knowing the trick comes up in various passages. We know when they are going to pinch the sax or let the guitars creep. We can see the cascading pianos coming and the slides that the songs follow are still there, although less pronounced. Maybe I’m being very picky (I am one of those people who hold their concert with Craig Thompson at the Apolo somewhere in my heart), but I’m afraid that Menomena’s inventive, pointed writing is starting to lose its punch. Or maybe it’s just that, like some others, they have stopped putting out exceptional albums and started giving us ones that are just “good.”
Menomena - Dirty Cartoons