Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do do da do-do

If you're an avid reader of Muzjiks, you're already aware of my adoration for Menomena's Mines; indeed, I consider it the current frontrunner for album of the year. Like all great albums, it not only functions as a cohesive unit, but it also reveals itself gradually over time with repeated listens yielding continued rewards. The layering of melodies and timbres, the musicianship (see: drumming), the vocal harmonies (see: the climax of TAOS), the cryptically universal lyrics akin to the work of Thom Yorke—it's all bloody brilliant.

Now, what you may or may know about this Portland, Oregon, trio is that all three sing and all three are multi-instrumentalists. And an interesting tidbit: even though Menomena is the most well known musical act in which Knopf, Harris, and Seim are involved, it actually began as a side project of Danny Seim's solo moniker, Lackthereof. It is this subject of solo projects which I'm concerned with for today's post.

Between Seim's Lackthereof and Brent Knopf's Ramona Falls, two-thirds of Menomena's whole have established solo projects. And they're stellar. I must admit that I'm not as well-versed in Lackthereof's back catalog as I would like, though I did recently purchase his Your Anchor release on CD, so I will not make any blanket generalizations about his work quite yet. Ramona Falls, on the other hand, I've been digging since Intuit dropped in August of last year. Conceived in a three step process of Knopf creating rough demos of song ideas, he then traveled around the country visiting with friends of his who were also musicians, at which point they collaborated and jammed together. From here, Knopf went back to the studio to pick and choose elements that he liked in order to fashion the final product.

To help you get a better understanding of how Brent Knopf's songwriting process works, I've embedded a YouTube clip above. Using a looping program called Deeler (Digital Looper Recorder) that he coded himself, he comes up with small melodic ideas and treats them as self-proclaimed "puzzle pieces." Perhaps herein lies the draw of Menomena and Ramona Falls music: those aural puzzle pieces implore the listener to figure out how the entire structure from segment to segment and song to song fit together, which may explain the gratification of repeated listens.

As this post grows longer than I anticipated, I'm realizing just how much analysis this music demands. This is no throwaway YouTube mashup or dumbed down bubblegum pop; rather, this is complex, painstakingly conceived, and expertly executed experimental indie rock from three of the most brilliant musicians in the game today. So, if you're unfamiliar with Brent, Justin, and Danny, consider this the beginning of a process of discovery...

Ramona Falls: Going Once, Going Twice [alt]
The above track is actually the finished product of the song you watched come to life in the YouTube video above.

Lackthereof: Safety in Jail [alt]
I dare you to get this synth line out of your head. And not is it uber-catchy, but it also serves as a sort of stabilizer in an otherwise rather chaotic piece of music. This is the kind of painstakingly conceived songwriting—avant-garde, even—that I was referring to earlier.

Menomena: TAOS [alt]

A final word: if there's any one band that deserves your CD or vinyl purchase, it's Menomena. And I'm not saying this because I love their work; I'm saying it because there's simply too much going on and therefore too much lost when one listens to their music on mp3s. For instance, there's a soft piano melody in (I might be mistaken) "Lunchmeat" that's arranged really far back in the mix in the left channel that was completely nonexistent once the track has been compressed into mp3. Long story story, just buy the fucking CD, kapeesh?


Anonymous said...

yes. just yes. More posts like this :)

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