Menomena, perhaps the most lovable alt-jazz blaster masters, are back with a more "normal" full length. Their last album was a three-song soundtrack that didn't really help us define who we think we'd thought Menomena could be: a complex, crazy rock band. The band has a unique eccentricity, and on their third album, Friend and Foe, the trio thankfully bust even more out of their shells. They bring the thunder and lightning in more conventional (actual four-minute songs), and less conventional (everything else) ways, through crash-heavy drums, shifty electronic arranging, and a heavy dose of their essential wonked-out sax. The rock is back, as scatterbrained as ever, making for intensively fun listening – full of elaborate jams and lo-fi anthems.
Menomena smear the rock pallette around in midtempo madness, driven by experimental rhythms of extensive, raw rock elements. Like the best cd-skips imaginable, songs seem to jump up and down off of buildings, falling out and bouncing back with uncommon frequency. The first five seconds of the first track, "Muscle & Flo", are evidence, with deliberate drumming leading right into a cut-off into a bassline and light vocals. The crazy kicks back in and out throughout the song as fuzzy guitars, a rolling piano tap, and dense organ in the Damon Albarn-esque shoutsong. The next track, "The Pelican", runs operatic piano bobbing before exploding into a strong, swampy blast. Bent, distorted guitars flash around foot-stompin' spazzrock. There's a twist around every beat.
Menomena's law regarding momentum is hardly a law – it's a constant shift in progress, with repeating measures usually ending at one. There are few moments when Friend and Foe can't catch you off-guard with a new instrument or mood fluctuation. Whereas on most others' records, and like their debut, Menomena's "skronk" sax could steal the focus from predictable arranging, but this time around, it's easier to blend in with wild arrays of electronic filler and rock-out methodology. These songs have funhouse proportions, which strangely endear them to jazz ears… rock ears… Can't it be both?
It's not all wild fun & games though – there are moments of scary clarity, where Menomena shows off their unacknowledged stadium-style pop side. The first single, "Wet & Rusting" is probably the most singleworthy, with its less-irregular fury and more familiar acoustic shuffle, piano, and cascading drum playing off each other well. "Rotten Hell" is an energetic, monotonous piano bounce that fuels a pub-quality sing-a-long. It eventually fades down then and blows back up into a highly Blur-ed anthem.
Overall, this is like I am the Fun Blame Monster!'s cooler, older brother who just got back from a long vacation. Menomena are even more articulate this time around, while leaving the spectrum wide enough to include a ton of good possibilities – huge ballads or small club idiosyncrasy. Highly inventive, not too trendy, and thoroughly indie – making their name truly fit: some bizarre phenomenon they are.