New musical obsession: Menomena

Since music has always been a guilty pleasure obsession for me, it really isn’t hyperbolic of me to refer to my discovery of a new band that I like as a new musical obsession.

When something musical catches my attention, I tend to get deeply absorbed very quickly: watching YouTube clips of the band, buying a CD or two and listening to them closely and regularly, creating Pandora stations, reading about them online, etc.

Now, this doesn’t always signal a long-term relationship. Sometimes these explorations reveal that there’s not enough depth to the music and the musicians who created it, and so they eventually become nothing more than a passing fancy. (This happened most recently with the band Blur. Ian, my friend, if you happen to read this, sorry, they just didn’t stick with me, and I really did try to connect with them.)

Enter Portland’s Menomena.

I’d been aware of this band by name (a name that rhymes with phenomena, btw) for a few years, as they occasionally come to Bellingham to perform, yet I’d never made it to a show. And so, when I saw that there were a couple of clips of them on Pitchfork I thought it was about time I check them out.

I have to admit, as I watched the first clip, a song titled TAOS, I really didn’t know what to make of them. Frankly, they seemed an awful mess — the guy, Joe Haege, playing his SG WAY up high, like on his chest, was the geekiest musican I’ve ever seen; the vocals were weak; and the guy singing the vocals, Justin Harris, looked like he should be in a jam band playing Phish covers, rather than an alternative rock band.

Still, there was something intriguing about them, and I couldn’t help comparing the drummer, Danny Seim, to Kliph Scurlock of The Flaming Lips, something I consider a very good thing, as those of you who visit here regularly know well enough.

And so I decided to delve deeper, and it only took watching the other available clip at Pitchfork, a song titled Five Little Rooms, for me to get totally sucked in. From the baritone sax to the driving drums, the piercing guitar accents to the piano arpeggios, there was something infectious going on.

As it turns out, there’s a version of Taos on YouTube, from a Live on KEXP session that blows the Pitchfork version away, the other KEXP clips are exceptional as well, and it doesn’t take a sound engineer to attribute the difference to the fact that the latter were recorded in a studio and the former in a classroom.

On Menomena’s website, there’s a quote from what appears to be an uncredited review of, I don’t know, maybe their latest album, but it really sums up what I like so much about them at this point:

Menomena always manage to sound both exacting and reckless as they tear through their typi­cally idiosyncratic songs — their structures are composed with such precision, yet sometimes it seems like the band isn’t entirely sure when to start and stop. But that’s all part of the fun!

It’s rather unusual for me to post two videos in one blog post, but I just feel inspired by Menomena to do so.

The first is one of the other KEXP performances, a song that features another member, Brent Knopf, on lead vocals, great harmonies, and some outstanding percussion from Danny.

The second is a quieter affair, but more importantly it may be the most powerful anti-violence video I’ve ever seen.

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