Friend And Foe represents Menomena’s first release in the UK for those willing to dig a little for their music: it actually finds the band on their third album. Their first release was on a tiny Portland label, whilst their second consisted mainly of instrumental pieces written for a modern dance performance. Avant Garde is the term that is currently being used to describe the band. If that puts you off, remember that labels are not always correct.
Describing Friend and Foe as avant garde couldn’t be further from the truth. The songs themselves may go through an unusual gestation period (the band employ something the call Deeler sessions, whereby songs are looped and deconstructed before being reassembled again) but the finished product, on this evidence at least, is a collection of music that’s closer to being pop songs.
Opening track Muscle ‘n’ Flow finds the band treading similar folk and beats territory to Super Furry Animals. The Pelican meanwhile has something strangely reminiscent of Ozzy and Black Sabbath about it although the forceful looped drums and stabbing guitar lines may lead you down an entirely different dark alley and beat you half to death.
Elsewhere you’ll find Menomena in a similar land to The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, producing heartbreaking melodies, symphonic swells and gentle motifs that create a lump at the back of the throat.
The introduction of a saxophone on tracks like Boyscout’n brings to mind Morphine‘s angular jazz pop. Menomena’s method of piecing these tracks together means that where the saxophone could lead to interminable jazz workouts, instead it merely broadens the appeal of the tune by supporting, rather than leading it.
Almost all of these songs sound strangely familiar and comfortable. It’s as though Menomena had tapped into something primal, in the sense of gentle, almost magical in places. But it lacks bite.
These songs don’t sound like reconstituted loops at all. Any rough edges have been gracefully removed, and segues fit like together like a jigsaw made of water. Friend And Foe sounds like a record played from the heart, rather than created via sound file manipulation. That in itself is a massive accomplishment.
If you expected something avant garde you could be disappointed. But Menomena have created a record that could well be one of the more interesting indie records of the year.