When Brent Knopf left Menomena in 2011 to focus on Ramona Falls, the Portland band soldiered forward, seemingly without a hitch. For live shows, the now-duo of Danny Seim and Justin Harris added musicians like Paul Alcott (who’s also in Ramona Falls, coincidentally enough) to flesh out the band’s sound. In addition, the pair decided to make Moms, its first record without Knopf and fifth album overall, by themselves. Still, it’s disingenuous to pretend that Menomena is the same band; sonically, Moms is missing the frantic rhythmic underbelly and sense of pop lightness Knopf brought to his musical contributions, and the group’s classic rock tendencies are far more pronounced. Sludgy, fuzzy guitars ooze through “Capsule,” while hefty organ peals match the zooming vocals of the Yo La Tengo-esque psych-rock squall “Baton.”
But these changes and progressions don’t mean Moms is an unpleasant listening experience – just a different listening experience. Menomena has always been a complex band, but this album has layers upon layers of dense sound to unpack. In a sense, the music reflects Moms‘ weighty lyrical themes: Seim’s songs address the reverberations from his mother’s death, while Harris tackles being raised by a single mom after his dad left them. The marching “Don’t Mess With Latexas” alternates between simple piano accompaniment and prog-funk skronking complete with burnt horns and echoing harmonies; whispering vocals and zippy keyboards give “Tantalus” an ominous tone; and the soul-pop bloom “Pique” boasts reedy saxophone/horns and ominous pattering rhythms. The sprawling “One Horse” even boasts a fervent orchestra, which conveys almost unbearable sadness.
In the end, Moms echoes other bands – Super Furry Animals’ sideways pop, Xiu Xiu’s haunted indie and even Radiohead’s cryptic electronic murk, among others – but merely in brief, fragmented ways. Despite the lineup changes, Moms just might be Menomena’s most focused album yet.