Menomena blends different musical talents, tastes

Portland based art-rockers Menomena will play alongside Maps & Atlases on March 9 at Mojo's.

By Parker Tarun | March 4, 2011

Tags: Concerts Music

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The nature of Menomena’s music is similar to the nature of its name: a non-word and yet humanly cadent. From I Am the Fun Blame Monster to Friend and Foe, the Portland band has recorded intricate art-rock, without fear of exploring foreign instruments, limited only by its imagination. And these guys’ imagination is pretty endless.

Recorded over three years and released in July, Menomena’s new album, Mines, has elicited unanimous praise, receiving high grades from Pitchfork Media, Rolling Stone and several other popular music outlets.

But for Menomena, there’s no grand way to write songs, even when they amount to something like “Sleeping Beauty.” The songs begin as fragmented ideas, and the band gradually tapers them until completion.

“It’s a matter of being together in the really early stages,” vocalist, drummer and multi-instrumentalist Danny Seim said. “Capturing those quick little loops, rearranging those, adding vocals, making it more linear on our own, and handing it over to the other guy.”

From the quark-sized bells of “Wet and Rusting” to the tectonic bassline of “TAOS,” Menomena’s craft is a varied art. The band delegates its vocal and instrumental roles equally. Member Justin Harris can play saxophone, bass, guitar, and sing in a span of minutes on a given album. This egalitarian method has worked to permit a free flow of ideas. Frictional influences have also worked to keep Menomena away from any scene or labels.

“I can play a drum part, obviously referencing this drummer,” Seim said. “Then Justin will come at it with a completely different set of influences and take it in a completely different direction.”

Aside from a few they agree on, Harris and Seim have mostly separate tastes.

“To me, it keeps us almost from treading too much on familiar territory,” Seim said.

Menomena formed in 2000, but Seim met Harris and other bandmate Brent Knopf a few years earlier.

“We were going to the same little religious school in a suburb of Portland and we were playing in bands together and Brent actually came to one of our shows,” Seim said.

After Knopf returned from Dartmouth, the three got together and started exchanging sounds.

Last November, after touring behind Mines, Knopf split from the band on amicable terms.

Minus Knopf, Menomena continues its live show with touring members Joe Haege and Paul Alcott. Recreating its signature atmosphere on stage has been something Menomena labors to do, and with verve.

“We get lost in the process when we’re working on a record,” Seim said. “It’s always a stress to learn the millions of different parts that you were layering and layering in the studio sessions.”

From the sensual burn of “Queen Black Acid” to the willowy sing-along of “Dirty Cartoons,” the live set channels the many moods of Menomena’s palette.

With one-third of the original band gone and a groundswell of support for Mines, Seim and Harris are grabbing in the dark for what comes next.

“I just feel like I’ve lived and breathed it so long,” Seim said.

Despite the band's uncertain future, Seim said the thing Menomena is best at is taking puzzles and making them linear.

“It’s going to be different, but it’s kind of exciting now," Seim said. "The next record is still a question mark.”

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