Menomena jumped the gates early in January 2007 releasing their amazing second full-length record Friend and Foe easily garnering the title “The First Great Record of 2007” by fans and critics alike. This, their first release on Barsuk, has quickly found its way into independent music lovers CD players and most-played lists and has not been easily removed.
The Portland three-piece has once again melded their jazz, blues and rock fusion tendencies into cleverly crafted songs of meticulous rhythms, smartly sparse guitars, strong piano melodies, moody horns and powerful vocals delivering intriguing lyrics. Like on their previous record, I Am the Fun Blame Monster, Menomena’s allure and attraction is found in the surprising evolution their songs take from beginning to finish. The band keeps it’s listeners at full attention with every turn of the phrase and verse-to-chorus-to-bridge. And with three vocalists switching the lead, it takes quite a while for these songs to lose their crispness.
From track one, Menomena sets the tone of the record with the phenomenal “Muscle’n Flo”, the greatest song on the album and debatably thus far in 2007. The track begins with a drum crash in and then a simple yet promising bass line covered with cleverly rhythmic lyrics. The song begins to develop with single whining guitar notes, some more drums and beautifully campy inspirational piano. The energy starts to change as the guitar comes in and out with scratchy start/stop riffs and anthemic vocals. Just as the song begins to fit into a niche, it stops to breath, leaving nothing but the piano line and then some choir-y organ as the lyrics begin to confess, And here I stand a broken man / If I could I would raise my hands/ I come before you humbly / If I could I’d be on my knees / Come lay down your head upon my chest / Feel my heart beat feel my unrest / If Jesus could only wash my feet / Then I’d get up strong and muscle on. The organ vibe continues and is met with the drums, piano and guitar, lifting the song to some weird place where you wish you could be—singing it in some indie rock church. This, all while playing tambourines, waving ribbons and flags, watching people being delivered from the sins of Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Panic at the Disco. If you can’t get into this song, you might not have a soul.
Menomena follow this extraordinary start with “The Pelican.” This short song might be playing if an army of giant robots ever marched through New York City, defending it from attacking monsters. It’s ominous, driving, foreboding, powerful and scary as all get out. And it’s about pelicans fighting over fish.
“Wet and Rusting” boasts the band’s multiple vocal abilities, dynamically weaving melodies while “Weird” displays the group’s cleverness in utilizing lyrics and instrumentation to create a one cohesive voice.
“Rotten Hell” stands out as a mid-record high point. This piano ballad plays as a mid-tempo melancholy piece about resolve, and just as you think you have this song pinned, it changes ever so slightly, and then Menomena pulls a few tricks form their hat and returns to that same church service found in “Muscle’n Flo”.
The remainder of Friend and Foe contains several oddly magical moments, effectively digging its hooks into your ears and establishing itself as a record that will remain on repeat for weeks to come.