Since Menomena’s third album “Friend and Foe” was released in January, the Portland, Ore., based experimental indie rock band has toured extensively, with stops including the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago and a multitude of cities in Europe.
They return to the District Nov. 6 to play at the Black Cat. The last time they were in D.C., Menomena played at the Rock and Roll Hotel, which, according to the multi-instrumentalist band member Justin Harris in an interview with The Hatchet, was his “favorite venue to play on our last U.S. tour.” He listed D.C. as one of the top five cities he liked to play in, along with Portland, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
“Friend and Foe” is a beautifully arranged record – it is both haunting and hopeful. The record is a brilliant work of art with the intricate tiers of orchestration that Harris, Brent Knopf and Danny Seim have created. They recorded and produced the entire record, as they did with their previous two efforts, and received widespread critical acclaim, including an 8.5 rating from Pitchfork. The only outside help came from Jeff Stuart Saltzman, who mastered it in post-production. Most of Menomena’s songs are the result of a computer program Brent wrote called Deeler. The program loops digital music files – essentially a glorified guitar loop.
The songs on “Friend and Foe” are chaotic and wild at some moments. At others, they are enveloping and lush. Their splendor lies in how each piece fits in the puzzle. “The Pelican” begins with a combination of enveloping vocals and a terrifying piano part, but it is quickly assaulted with jarring guitars and crashing drums. The mayhem of the song is quickly put to rest by the delicate beauty of the next track, “Wet and Rusting.” The song “Weird” could be characterized as exactly that, with its grumbling synths, precise drum beats, intermittent sax and odd background vocals (which sounds kind of like excited panting). But as the song progresses, you realize that each part brings out a new facet of the composition. Each instrument brings out something new in the others.
The second half of the record is more abstract than the first. “My My” has a background of grandiose keyboard, but interspersed throughout are quick, exploratory slashes of guitar and floating vocals. The end of the song confronts the listener with a majestic portrait that is up to each individual to imagine.
Menomena’s songs are amorphous to the extent that there is a certain degree of personal interpretation required for maximizing the listening experience of the record.
On stage, the trio recreates the complexities of their songs without backing tracks. Knopf plays keyboards and glockenspiel, all the while using a laptop for various samples. Harris plays bass, guitar, a Moog Taurus synthesizer and saxophone. Seim plays drums and other percussion, and all three sing lead on different songs.
Patrons to the Menomena show should expect a great show, although it is hard to say what will happen exactly. When asked if the band had any special plans for this tour, Harris replied, “Actually, yes we do. But I can’t say what.”
After this tour, which concludes in their hometown of Portland on Nov. 24, the band is going to rest and “get seriously started on our next album,” Harris said. But before they can take a break, they’ll be bringing their imaginatively crafted songs to back to D.C.