Menomena: MINES

Mon Nov 29 2010
Indie rock dilemma: how to be pretty but not too pretty?  It’s fashionable again to be tuneful and harmonious, but there’s still gotta be an edge.  Menomena finds its balance in too-brief spurts, with classic pop tunes broiling just below the surface but mostly drowned out by patchwork arrangements and occasionally, a lack of musicality.

It's a pity that they had to sing a lyric like "nothing sounds appealing" ("Tithe", a song that snags its dominant melody from Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon"), because that's the problem with the album in a nutshell.  None of these cats is a good singer, and the quaint indie incompetence wears thin; all the dense instrumentation they pile on can't hide it.  Their ambitions have been gradually overtaking their capacity for actual music, and on Mines, they've overreached.

There's plenty of howling and uneasy harmonies atop layer after layer of this and that, and some of the time it is effective; don’t get me wrong.  But some of the hooks are so simplistic that they start to wear you down even within the confines of a five-minute song.  Tunes like “Dirty Cartoons” and "Oh Pretty Boy, You're Such A Pretty Boy" seem to be going for actual Grizzly Bear-style beauty, but they fail via twitchy instrumentation and unpleasant vocals.  "Five Little Rooms" yearns to be a grand statement, but an almost condescending attitude and thin instrumentation undermine it.

The album’s best tracks, “TAOS” and “Killemall”, come early in the album, and like most of Menomena’s material, they suggest huge potential.  Each track is stuffed with five or six potent but undeveloped themes--admittedly rewarding in their own right, but they don’t create the lasting impression this band has got to be capable of.  Still hopeful this band can put it all together some day, but getting maybe a bit impatient.

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