Under an Hour
enomena is the zenith of internet noise. Their self-released debut in 2003 muttered to slow acclaim via word-of-mouth, chat-groups, and various internet sites. Placing on many critics’ top-ten lists for the year, I Am the Fun Blame Monster was a prime example of the ever-rising clamor of webzines and their increasing ability to flex hipster word like a shrewd dark muscle amongst those, let’s form a crusade and contact the OED editorial staff, ‘intheknow.’ They were eventually picked up nationally, but not before they’d fluttered their dark jigsaw post-nothing-rock into the bend of our elbows and wrists and hammered crude bites into our tastes.
But those of you looking for a proper follow-up might justly exhale. It’s no use holding your breath; Menomena have swirled in sum a second-album to not so much push the envelope as mail in their walking papers free of postage or stamp. This is a departure, never coming home again ‘cause the family cabin’s melted into the soft Pacific earth and the skies are too gray to light another day’s building. Menomena doesn’t rely on their past as much as they heave it in the river and wipe their hands on novelty. Under an Hour is a three-piece post-classical mirage of repetition and withdrawal. Calling to mind the work of William Basinski gone feather-duster mad, Susumu Yokota drawn to the freezer for ice, and the ethereal stillness of Sigur Ros’ Ba Ba/Ti Ki/Di Do, Menomena present three lengthy pieces originally created for the Monster Squad dance group. I won’t hold you in contempt if you hear that, imagine their Oregonian birth, and see only salt and terrific drops in terrain. They are here.
Opener “Water” begins with a banjo sifted through grainy silt. The group tactfully builds the song with chimes and heavy organ holds, until the shifting in sound distorts the direction of the song. Acoustic guitars enter the t shrift and remove themselves just as quickly. It’s an exercise in shaded show and tell, just a hand’s glimpse and then retreat. “”Flour,” the album’s most successful fusion of dynamism and tension, revolves around a repetitious piano refrain that recalls Johan Johannsson’s Englaborn. Horns, cut short by the studio, soon augment the still piano lines, until the entire composition begins to glisten at the edges and catapult towards exhaustion. For the first time, drums enter the fray, and one can’t help but feel the terror of Portland’s notorious Shang-hai underground, the ground giving way and sliding you alt-eyed and sold into a slavery you can’t fathom. Just as quickly, the band shoves terra firma back under your feet; drums die, pianos fade, and chimes reverb in the brickblack.
Closer “Light” is an Aboriginal prayer if Aborigines worried about misconnected Wi-Fi. Violins sawing away in studio reverb rise against what almost sounds like a didgeridoo factory-made in the foul West, an image of what it might be were it what it isn’t and what it could be were it not. The album’s most delicately constructed piece, it is also the most intoxicating and oddly disconcerting. Just as you begin to understand its fleshy rise, Menomena introduces their trademarked electronic beats for the first time. Quickly changing tone, “Light” becomes a fractured, tonal bit of Drew Daniel-worthy deconstruction. Those head-nodders pulling in here for quick distraction would be well-advised to focus on these few minutes.
Ultimately, though Menomena gain points for their daring, they put themselves up against deconstructionists more endowed than themselves. Consider the Liars’ follow-up as a more praiseworthy abortion. Their record improved on their debut by refining their angsty punk-funk into the chained dazzle of hair-on-fire, proof of a jagged evolutionary line. Under an Hour is instead an interesting view into a band that continues to evolve without really throwing down any breadcrumbs for them or us to follow. The format for the release may be to blame, but in terms of the band’s own progress, it seems a bookmark more than a page-turning. As such Under an Hour is fit to wallpaper your Sunday morning newsprint, but it ain’t gonna steady you against the pulp of boredom, and for music like this and a band of such promise, this soft billow closes on disappointment.