Menomena have reached the point in their career with their new album, Mines, where people gradually stop questioning just how long they’ll last. They’ve passed the first couple years, where the strain of recording and playing live shows supposedly eats many bands alive. They made it through their second album, where so many bands theoretically fall victim to the sophomore slump (is this really real anymore? It’s referenced all the time, but every time it is, it seems to be that the band managed to avoid it). Now on their third album, they are expected to find their sound and gain maturity, and they have more or less done just that. On Mines, Menomena use their signature recording technique to craft an album that is full of fun, catchy songs with big hooks and choruses that manage to avoid coming off cheesy or derivative.
On first listen, if you’re like me and tend to do a surface listen first, Mines really doesn’t grab you, but when you take the time to really listen to it and pay attention to everything going on, it starts to take ahold and pull you in. The opener, “Queen Black Acid”, represents the album well in this manner. It starts with a nice little bass line and simple guitar strumming before the vocals and a decent drum beat come in and take over for the bass. There are a few other elements that jump in there throughout the song, but on a cursory listen, it’s a pretty plain song. However, with a closer listen, you notice how the little synth and piano flourishes twist into the textures of the guitar and drums, how the sleigh bells accentuate the lyrical content of the chorus, and how everything fits together just perfectly. After you notice everything present in the song, it’s an enrapturing, beautiful song that showcases all of the best attributes of the band before it cuts to silence.
Quickly cutting through that silence is the highly distorted bass riff of “TAOS”, which is a fun, romping tune. It effectively combines all the synths, strings, distorted guitar and bass, piano, sax, and vocals to quickly build up the energy of the album. “Killemall” darkens the mood just as fast as “TAOS” cut through the silence with a foreboding piano intro that leads into a song that is a fair amount brighter (musically) than the intro would indicate.
One thing that the first three songs also point out is that this is an album that should be listened to on a good pair of headphones (preferably) or on good speakers at the least. Menomena utilizes the stereo effect as much as possible, it seems. Several parts only come in on one ear when listening on headphones, which helps emphasize certain aspects of the songs quite well, as well as helping to keep some of their rather busy arrangements from sounding too busy. There’s a lot going on in each track present on this album. Even the simpler tracks have a lot of layers that really come out nicely with a good set of speakers or headphones, but can sometimes get buried without them.
Proving this all the more is “Tithe”. It starts out with a xylophone loop, which is then augmented by a different xylophone loops, and yet another, before it all starts fading into some beautiful piano playing. The piano subsequently gets a hard accent from some heavy guitar. Then, by the time you get to the first verse, you are back to just the piano backing the vocals. That only lasts half the verse, though, before guitar, bass, drums, and a couple other things get added in. The xylophones make additional appearances in the song, as well as some organs and a reversed sample of an electric piano that segues into a forward electric piano sample. Some backing “ooohs” work their way in before the song finishes exploding into the finale. If this sounds busy, it is. However, it never feels overbearing, and every part actually feels necessary, which is really quite an accomplishment.
It’s tough not to go through and give an in depth review of every single song on Mines, as there isn’t a weak track, but this is an album that definitely needs to be experienced, not read about. So find your headphones and put it on. You may have to work a little bit to get everything there is out of it, but Menomena made sure that it is entirely worth it.
Review by Scott Hoelzer