Menomena – Friend And Foe

More goodness from the alt.rock capital of the world, Portland

For what seems like aeons now, the US’ alt.bunker Portland has been producing more great bands than it’s given credit for. Elliott Smith, The Shins and The Gossip have all played their part in making it the most un-ignorable musical conurbation on the planet. But, even by this musical hub’s own standards of prolonged pedigree, Menomena provide something utterly alternative.

Although they’ll be a new (and tongue-confuddling) name to many, ‘Friend And Foe’ actually earmarks their third outing, following 2004’s self-produced contributions ‘I Am The Fun Blame Monster’ (an anagram of ‘the first Menomena album’) and 2005’s ‘Under An Hour’. Both were low-key, raw jigsaws of patchy, embryonic space-age indie. This, however, heralds their fruition.

After six years settled as a three-pronged unit, they’ve assembled the most glorious, panoramic album of this light-year, complete with glitchy weird-outs, operatic arrangements and a rag-time New Orleans sense of soul.

Even their closest counterparts – think TV On The Radio (with added hooks), Cold War Kids (dullness revoked) – haven’t embraced anything quite this alien. There’s no be-grumping the bore of nine-to-five living. It’s not set in a scene, a trend or some amateur dramatic art college. It’s a scroll of original deliberation, where not one note is straightforward, but still totally irresistible.

You see, Brent Knopf, Justin Harris and Danny Seim build songs like Lego men or Meccano pyramids. Single ‘Wet & Rusting’ parades in its own cinematic bliss and ‘The Pelican’ is a meteoric hail storm of thudding drums. ‘Weird’ is just that – a haze of bossanova bass and baritone brass. Best is ‘Evil Bee’ – a clean slice of saxy, science-fiction glam. Throughout, we’re not exactly sure what is making each mind-widening shriek, but it’s perplexing and totally enveloping.

Airy production means ‘Friend…’ sounds like it was recorded in a jet-propelled chapel drifting between Mars and Venus, chiselled by astronauts fed through polystyrene tubes on hallucinatory custard. Brent Knopf devised his own software program, nicknamed DLR, which apparently looks like BT’s Bangladeshi switchboard, in order to achieve this sonic scientology. Yes they’re geeks, but their priority is Fantasia, not fashion.

“People of the future won’t remember”, sings Knopf from the bottom of his lungs on ‘Airaid’, like some kind of acid-fried progeny of Sigur Rós and Al Green. However, don’t be surprised if people do remember, because ‘Friend And Foe’ has all the hallmarks of an underground classic that’s here to stay.