Menomena
Menomena Accord­ing to Bernoulli’s prin­ci­ple, when an incom­press­ible fluid passes from a large area into a smaller one, as when a wide pipe fun­nels into a nar­row pas­sage, the fluid’s veloc­ity rapidly increases. That idea has dozens of prac­ti­cal uses, from the oper­a­tion of air­plane wings to the func­tion of your automobile’s car­bu­re­tor. It’s a key part of com­puter pro­duc­tion and the basis of cutting-edge work in the field of hydraulics. And, as strange as it might sound, the legacy work of 18th cen­tury Euro­pean math­e­mati­cian Daniel Bernoulli also ade­quately describes the process behind and prod­uct of Moms, the fifth and best album to date by Portland’s Menomena.

Dur­ing the last decade, Menom­ena has become its own ref­er­ence point. From hooks wrapped around plum­met­ing bari­tone sax­o­phone lines and nearly inhu­man rhythms to ser­pen­tine lyri­cal frame­works and high-concept album art, Menom­ena has estab­lished a sin­gu­lar and unmis­tak­able aes­thetic. No one else sounds quite like this band. They embed magic and mys­tery within pop songs that have never sat still or taken the path of least pres­sure, just as Bernoulli would have had it.

Since 2010’s irre­press­ible and intri­cate Mines, though, the pipe has nar­rowed: Menom­ena co-founder Brent Knopf took his leave to focus on his solo project caus­ing Justin Har­ris and Danny Seim—close friends since high school and now well into their sec­ond decade of mak­ing music together—to recast Menom­ena as a duo. As sci­ence might have pre­dicted, they didn’t slow down; they actu­ally sped up, writ­ing, record­ing and releas­ing Moms with more focus and speed than ever before.

Har­ris and Seim didn’t invite loads of friends or col­lab­o­ra­tors to replace Knopf; they made these songs as a duo, intent on proving—directly to them­selves, and by exten­sion, to every­one else—that Menom­ena essen­tially remains the same brazen band respon­si­ble for Friend and Foe, Under an Hour and all the gut-punch, pop-ambition moments therein. They added new instru­ments, like flute, cello, more of Seim’s syn­the­siz­ers and the tap-dancing that actu­ally laces through the teasing-then-charging opus, “Don’t Mess with Latexas.” For the first time, Har­ris and Seim, who each con­tribute five songs here, talked about what they were writ­ing, too. Seim explored the death of his mother when he was but a teenager, while Har­ris inves­ti­gated the way his own fam­ily dynamic—a sin­gle mom, with a departed dad—left indeli­ble impres­sions on every­thing he’s done since. The album’s pieces con­nect, then, address­ing how peo­ple must rise to face or flee cir­cum­stances beyond their con­trol. It’s per­haps the most appro­pri­ately imag­in­able prompt for a band whose last two years have depended upon their abil­ity to explore, adapt and improve.

The result, Moms, is tragic and inti­mate, comic and endear­ing, per­sonal and moti­vated. In 10 songs and just less than 50 min­utes, Har­ris and Seim cast pop cas­cades into noise kalei­do­scopes (“Baton”), chop and twist a melody until it becomes a big dance beat (“Cap­sule”), and build inescapable arrays of ten­sion and tex­ture that finally release (“Tan­ta­lus”). Opener “Plumage” cou­ples its surge of energy with a clev­erly play­ful study of sex­u­al­ity, while “Pique” turns the same sort of seem­ingly impos­si­ble tessellated-rhythm tricks that have become a Menom­ena trademark.

At the close of it all, the slow stran­gle of “One Horse” arrives as the most poignant moment yet in Menomena’s cat­a­logue, piano plink­ing and strings slid­ing beneath Seim’s exis­ten­tial eva­sion. It’s the per­fect sum­mary state­ment for Moms, an album that explores both a new vul­ner­a­bil­ity and resiliency within Menom­ena, a duo that’s taken change not as an excuse to opt out but instead as a cat­a­lyst for growth.

Bar­suk Records released Moms on Sep­tem­ber 18th, 2012