Just walk into any hipster hangout and you’ll see it. Far and above, the most popular debate amongst fans of so-called Indie rock is about the lack of originality in a growing number of copy-cat bands, a strange phenomena in a genre that was once (and presumably still is) built around experimentation and uniqueness. But every once in a while, a band comes around about whom it becomes very difficult to argue, because whether you like them or you don’t, there is one thing both sides can agree on: they are flat out doing something different.
Meet Menomena, the quirky art-rock creature that’s been buzzing around the Indie scene since 2002. At first glance, the story of their debut album, I am the Fun Blame Monster (FILMguerrero), sounds like something straight out of a made-for-radio teen-pop group; their music was written on a computer, and they only learned how to play their own songs after the music was recorded. However, they wrote the computer program themselves (it’s called Deeler), and you don’t even have to listen through the first song to realize these guys have nothing to hide as far musical skills. Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf says that by approaching the songwriting in this new way, they were able “to write collaboratively and escape the ego battles. It let us come up with different ideas without deciding which ones would make the cut right off the bat, so we could be creative without the pressure to be selective.”
Technology aside, the album that emerged has been hailed by critics and fans alike, a flowing trip that is as unconventional as the men who made it. Their website seems to have been run through various languages on an online translator, and their music, seems to have morphed from Rock to Hip-Hop to New Wave and found its way back to Rock again, creating an unapologetically lo-fi sound filled with stuttering drum hooks and stacked with sweeping organ, ethereal piano and dangerously distorted bass lines.
By drawing from the disparate influences of Knopf, bassist/guitarist Justin Harris and drummer Danny Seim, Menomena has made it tough to explain their sound with a single label – understandable, considering they have drawn as many comparisons to Radiohead as they have to ’70s art rockers Roxy Music. “It was funny,” says Knopf, “people would come up to us at shows and be like ‘Oh, you sound just like so-and-so’, and much of the time, it would be a band we’d never even heard of. It was kind of fun hearing people tell us what bands we could have been influenced by, but really weren’t.”
In a day where CD collections are finding their individual parts to be more and more interchangeable, Menomena may be the remedy for overexposure to the happily-eclectic-yet-pleasantly-generic middle ground. As Knopf said, the norm is no place for Menomena; “How many black and white pictures can a band take with each guy looking forlornly in an opposite direction? It’s just not for us.”
Menomena will play the Black Cat Sunday.