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Menomena, ‘Moms’ – Album Review

Moms
Barsuk

Family is strange. Anyone can tell you that. And so it follows that for artists, as they mature — like, say, by the time they’re making their fifth album — they investigate their own. This is the overriding theme of ‘Moms,’ the new record from Portland’s Menomena. The title can be explained by the fact that Danny Seim’s mother died when he was a teenager, while bandmate Justin Harris grew up with a single parent.

It’s a deeply masculine album rooted in the neuroses peculiar to men as they grow old. The band explores issues pertaining to mothers and fathers, (often frustrated) romance and self worth, and yet amid such weighty preponderances, they often remain goofy.

Menomena tracks are made through email exchange — the cut-and-paste method so pervasive in collaborations circa 2012 — and Seim and Harris are quite practiced in the art of piecemeal song assembly. Trading vocal and songwriting duties, the band has a great gift for making opening lines that sweep through like thesis statements, whether on the woebegone introduction to ‘Heavy Is As Heavy Does’ (“Heavy are the branches hanging from my f—ed-up family tree”) or the endearingly direct start to ‘Plumage’ (“I’m nothing but an animal searching for another animal to tame and claim as my own”). Has a more accurate description of romantic pursuit ever been written?

In addition, they can summon some mighty strange imagery. The New Wave glow of ‘Baton’ opens with, “Hail Mary, you’re conveniently buried beneath me,” and later the quizzical rhyme of, “I wish you were my lover with your hands in place of ears / I wish that co-dependence could sustain us through the years.” There’s a sort of Tim Burton cutesy horror afoot here, a feeling that things aren’t quite right.

Or maybe they are, and Menomena does an exceptional job of articulating uncomfortable truths. On ‘Skintercourse,’ where he sounds even more like Damon Albarn than usual, Seim sings, among fingersnaps, “I can’t identify the source of my overarching need to pry under your skin,” showing a special deftness in self-deprication. More mordantly, on the TV on the Radio-esque turns of ‘Tantalus,’ he says that “if nostalgia doesn’t slit my wrists, this premonition will.” “I’d say hello,” he adds, “if I could remember how to find your headstone.”

That last line is probably a shout-out to to the departed family member that gives the album its title — four letters that have tender associations, and that harbor feelings much darker.

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