Menomena Get Dark On Moms
Moms may very well be Menomena's darkest, most emotionally devastating album yet--an arresting song cycle about familial bonds that touches on mothers long since passed away, absentee fathers, dysfunctional kinship, and the way one's family ties weigh on every other relationship that comes along in life.
"Heavy are the branches hanging from my fucked-up family tree," murmurs singer and multi-instrumentalist Justin Harris on the show-stopping "Heavy is as Heavy Does," offering up one of the LP's central themes over a simple piano melody that gives way to fiery guitar skronk; the combination of dread and grandeur creating something akin to OK Computer's best, moodiest moments.
At the same time, this is the happiest the Portland-based Menomena--around since 2000--has been in ages. That's because they (mostly) resolved their troubled relationship as a band with last year's departure of co-founding member Brent Knopf, who left not long after the release of Menomena's fourth album, Mines, to turn his side project Ramona Falls into a full-time endeavor. Harris and fellow singer/multi-instrumentalist Danny Seim have continued on as a duo, expanded to a quintet for touring purposes.
"Just the overall vibe in the band is so much better, it's a much better experience for us now," says Harris. "It wasn't a good situation and I applaud [Knopf]--it's not easy walking away from something you've spent the last 10 years of your life doing, but he wasn't happy and none of us were, really."
Knopf alluded to internal dissent and hard feelings when I interviewed him back in 2007, when Menomena was touring its third album, Friend and Foe, for an SF Weekly piece; he blamed it squarely on the band's creative process. "To be a responsible musician, you have to make sure the song works, and that means we're always pruning each other's ideas," Knopf said at the time. "And that really hurts, to have an idea you really care about and have the other guys remove it. You gotta figure that with three people with equal roles within the band, more often than not you're gonna get overruled and most of your ideas won't see the light of day."
He insisted that that tension, while frustrating, wasn't enough to split the band up. But things were far more frayed than they let on. Harris says they tried to downplay it because they didn't want that drama overshadowing the music. Yet that plan went up in smoke around the release of Mines, "when Danny and Brent felt very at liberty to just start talking [to the press] about how problematic our relationship had become, and that just turned a spotlight on it," says Harris.