It’s hard to imagine Menomena without the multi-talented Brent Knopf, who in 2011 left the band to pursue work with Ramona Falls. Knopf was instrumental to Menomena’s creative process. During live performances, Knopf played keyboard, electric guitar, and glockenspiel, all while managing MIDI tracks on a laptop. For the recording process Knopf programmed an application to specifically accommodate Menomena’s democratic songwriting process.
Paired with remaining members, Danny Seim and Justin Harris, the trio released unique experimental indie rock albums that helped shape Portland’s iconic music scene. In a July 2012 interview with Pitchfork’s Laura Snapes remaining members Danny Seim and Justin Harris expressed the band’s internal struggles during their 2010 tour after the release of Mines as “the beginning of the end.” Knopf left the band the following year for other endeavors. And that’s where this story ends, because this album is not about Knopf.
Menomena fills that void with an album that deals with a touchy subject: Parenting. Moms is an ongoing discussion between parent and son and pays homage to themes like family, change and growing old. It is far more personal than anything we have heard from Menomena. The lyrics carry more weight, exposing a personal side that Menomena avoided as a trio. “Heavy Is As Heavy Does” contains this album’s defining line, “Heavy are the branches, hanging from my fucked up family tree and heavy was my father a stoic man of pride and privacy.” The song goes on to describe a son’s disappointment in his father’s absence. Then, in the fashion of earlier works, Menomena washes over the track in a wave of gritty guitars.
Instrumentals don’t just replicate Menomena’s iconic balance between bass and percussion; they expose a quality of layering that requires thoughtful planning and patience. Points of interest include the steady build into gritty guitar on “Heavy Is As Heavy Does”, beautiful keys work on “Plumage”, and the lengthy metamorphosis of “One Horse” including the oddity of its hidden track, which sounds like something you’d expect Tom Waits to make guest appearance on.
Don’t fret, fellow Menomena fans. This band still has it. They’ve taken the gritty energy of their live shows and spread that energy throughout an album. They’ve retained their core sound without a core member and they’ve proven that it’s never too late to tell your family how you feel in front of a mass audience.