Portland, Oregon trio Menomena take a lot of disjointed loops and tear them apart, spin them round and reconstruct them. It's a bit of musical puff-puff-pass, with each band member contributing something and feeding the data into a band-built looping computer program. Sounds alarmingly avant garde, right? And perhaps it is, in theory, but Menomena come across as surprisingly accessible and pop-oriented, even in the midst of all their computerised hyperactivity.
I have to give Menomena credit. When they emerged, they built all their songs using their own software. The approach worked really well, resulting in a wildly creative debut LP, I Am the Fun Blame Monster. But the band refused to let the process become the point, and seven years later, on their third album (not counting Under an Hour), you have to listen carefully to even detect the modular, mix-and-match method the band still employs in the studio. Mines, more than any of their previous work, really sounds like the trio did as much conventional songwriting as jamming, looping, and editing.
Four albums in, and Menomena are still making music on Deeler – a software programme that band member Brent Knopf wrote and submitted for his college coursework. Now, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a tried and tested method in itself, because it’s handy to know what you’re working with before you get started on a project. But in the cutthroat world of artrock, don’t bands at this stage in their career need to force themselves out of their comfort zone a little, or risk getting too settled in the same familiar territory they’ve spent the last decade exploring?
It’s a pretty common story in the land of indie-rock these days: A much-hyped and much-adored band releases a breakthrough album after toiling in anonymity for awhile, and then for years mounting upon years, silence. No follow-up, and very little word as to when one will arrive. The fanbase begins to get nervous, and the consensus is that, after all this time, the product will either be an unparalleled masterpiece or a dismal failure, the latter perhaps resulting from a collective band meltdown.