If you awoke today from an era-long slumber, you might be left confounded by the ambiguity of style, sexuality, and behavior that has become commonplace in both popular music and culture. That era from which you came was characterized by the increased acceptability of the effeminate man (Bowie), and the increasing masculinity of woman (Patti Smith). Today, these gender-branded behaviors have been further spliced. Nowhere suits this statement more than Portland, Oregon, home to a brand of gritty, individualistic, self-determined, asexuality that may only be rivaled by that of Brooklyn. Beautiful single speed bicycles, homes, cars, clothing, and art are not store-bought, but rather, home-strewn and handmade of found objects. Men must exhibit feminine vulnerability and style, whilst maintaining an aura of strength and utility. Woman, on the other hand, need to display self-reliance and guile while cloaked in soft, alluring sexuality.
The opener, "Muscle'n Flow," exerts a trembling tension for the first few moments, expressing the edge brought about during the morning hour of awakening. After gaining its footing, the song bursts with rebellion and electricity with a rolling drum, then settles into the vast country brought by electrified strings. "Wet and Rusting" balances a delicate voice over electronic loops, with a drizzled piano and acoustic guitar. "W+R" opens with the hyper drum injected by Danny Seim a minute-and-a-half into the song and then becomes dominated by the tones of Brent Knopf (which seems to exhibit the compositional style of Trent Reznor), as the slow piano peaks its head through at me. "Rotten Hell" materializes a grainy emulsion of Tears For Fears and John Lennon.
Notable on the album is the sax of Justin Harris, which recalls Morphine's Dana Colley. On "Weird," "Air Raid" (with its ubiquitous handclaps), and "Evil Bee," the emotion is drawn out, and the mood is both exhaustion and seduction. "Evil Bee" even tastes a bit like an early Duran Duran tune. On the other hand, "Boyscout'n" speaks not of joy, but rather the confusion of failed expectations--and here, the sax does not sedate so much as prod.
Unafraid of melding different sounds, different thoughts, and wildly varying emotions, Menomena has crafted an album for our time, and place. It's wholly original music with enough texture to force contemplation, and solubility that serves as license for joy without restraint. Friend and Foe balances abstract music with operatic glory, a culmination of pop ecstasy and improvisational wonder. • Robert Karmin
[The band images on this page were photographed by the inimitable Alicia J. Rose. When we saw her photos (see also the Puremusic interview with Gwynneth Haynes), we couldn't help wondering what Alicia's story might be. Then, when we heard her music (as Miss Murgatroid), we decided to find out! Check out our interview with her.]