Less than a year after the release of Menomena’s fourth album, Mines, multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf decided to leave the band and focus on his solo project, Ramona Falls, leaving remaining members Justin Harris and Danny Seim to assume the role of Portland’s other finest duo. Although Knopf’s departure was on amicable terms, the decision came as a surprise to Harris and Seim and forced them to decide whether they wanted to carry on making music as Menomena. The answer was yes, and the two picked themselves right back up and dove straight into the recording and production of Moms.
The album opens with the hand claps on “Plumage,” which lead to heavy guitar riffs alongside fuzzy, synthesizer hums and clanking piano melodies—the familiar sounds of Menomena’s unorthodox indie rock. On Moms, the band branched out its collection of instruments, often incorporating the baritone saxophone, seen on the tracks “Pique” and “Don’t Mess With Latexas,” while adding a wistful flute outro to “Capsule.” Menomena’s signature pattern of layering an instrument’s melody or rhythm, one on top of the other, pervades the album, often reaching the point where it simply breaks into total cacophonous euphoria.
“It felt like this time around we really took the opportunity to be a little bit more expressive lyrically and be a little bit more open,” Harris said in an interview about Moms. “It feels a little more focused than all our records in the past.”
Whether or not the improvement of the band’s ability to focus the album’s direction is due to having one less head to butt, something is working for Harris and Seim. The songwriting responsibilities were split evenly between the two members, and both used heavy imagery and wordplay in their songs’ lyrics, often revolving around the album’s dark theme of negative experiences with mothers and matronly relationships. From the track “Pique,” the lines “And now I’m getting used to getting used by you/So much so that I’m starting to feel right at home/On the whipping post,” are just a sliver of the heart-wrenching words you’ll find on Moms.
Throughout the roller-coaster ride of emotions, styles and instruments, Menomena sans Brent Knopf still manages to hold true to its experimental roots on Moms, never letting you know what the next song’s loop-de-loop of sound will be. While for some listeners not having a steady musical genre throughout an album can be annoying and sometimes confusing, hearing the varied styles intertwine track after track is half of the fun with Menomena. With one album completed under the new lineup, Harris and Seim show that they’ll continue guiding Menomena in interesting, unpredictable directions.