Some thoughts about Menomena, Ramona Falls and Lackthereof

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Set 20 2009, 3:19

Lately I've been thinking about Menomena and what makes them so great and a one-of-a-kind thing for me. It all comes down to the level of detail that seem to make up their songs. Every other second there is a certain moment that gives you a rewarding feeling as a listener. A feeling that your last 4 minutes or so have been very well invested.

While achieving that highly detailed and meticulously calculated arrangements in their songs, it never comes off as an overly artsy and unreachable composition that could only be appreciated by a music connoisseur of sorts. At its very core, it's the smartest form of pop rock in modern music. To write down an oxymoron I'll say that reaching such great levels of simplicity is quite a complicated matter. Look no further than the often over-looked Under an Hour album, where you'll find three 15+ minutes piece of ear heaven that truly showcase the great talent of these guys.

It comes as no surprise then that a group comprised of multi-instrumentalist that can write, record and destroy their own songs would spawn side projects. Well, up until a few months ago it had only spawned Danny Seim's Lackthereof, that is not a side project per se because it started well before Menomena formed, and now comes Brent Knopf's Ramona Falls.

According to a recent interview, the idea of Ramona Falls was not even around until the beginning of the year when they realized that Menomena's next potential masterpiece would take a bit longer than expected. So, with about a five months timeline, Brent set out to put together a record of his own, collaborated with 35 different people - including his mom! - on both sides of the country, where each person brought a different input that was later incorporated into the songs. That's basically the reason why this album feels more like a "band album" rather than a "singer-songwriter album". This could be considered a strength or a weakness of the album as a side project, depends on your point of view, as it ultimately feels well orchestrated rather than an intimate solo album. That's the main difference with Lackthereof, whose last few albums explore different styles from garage and electronic pop to acoustic and a more straightforward pop rock.



Musically, this album is more paced down, and somewhat delicate, with heavy use of acoustic guitars and piano. Lyrically, it employs a very simple, but beautiful, exotic fairytale-like imagery. There's rapunzel, komodo dragons and dinosaur bones, just to name a few. And even if it feels incredibly detailed for a singer-songwriter, the theme behind most of the songs deal with personal themes such as inadequacy, rejection and betrayal. When you combine it with the lush instrumentation, it makes for a winning combination.

Intuit has moments that could very well be compared to Menomena, but it also showcases some of the qualities that Brent brings to the group as an individual. Most of the songs that could be better linked to this album probably had Brent at the helm. Like the fast guitar of I Say Fever and The Monkey's Back, the climax of Evil Bee and Russia.

Disclaimer: This song connection is clearly all speculation on my part because there's no way of knowing who held the helm on which song but I am mostly inclined to go with whoever is singing.

In my opinion, the biggest connection comes with that attention to detail, where something as simple as a whistle on Clover, a soft vocalization part on The Darkest Day, a choir on Bellyfulla makes the song. There are other moments that are slightly bigger, like the heartbreakingly beautiful violin that shifts into a fast-paced part of Russia, the out-of-nowhere eastern european bridge of Always Right, and the hard rock-like freak out part of Going Once, Going Twice. Pretty much every song has a certain moment that's worth noting! Oh well, what are you going to do. It's probably the most downright beautiful album I've heard this year, so far.

If you haven't listened to it yet, I suggest you grab it as soon as you can. Just remember that you are only partially allowed to love this record because it's uncertain that it will have a future and this is possibly the one and only time they'll be on tour. Keeping that in mind, I decided to attend both NYC gigs last week. Yay me!

The shows were performed with the help of a band of collaborators: Danny, as the tallest bassist in the world; Paul Alcott, from Dat'r, on drums; and Matt sheehy on guitars (and mandolin!). As group they looked pretty much in unison and the drummer was a bit hyperactive.

They were also smart to include some key pre-recorded segments, like the string sections for Russia, horns for Salt Sack and the whistles(!) for Clover, while adding some nice touches like a group yell during Salt Sack. It was a pretty good live recreation of the album. I dare anyone to stand still during the Always Right bridge, it sounds a bit different live but it will still send electricity to your feet.



Brent has some interesting mannerisms when he's singing, like for instance he moves his left hand like he wants to play piano, even though there's no piano in the song or he's playing it with his other hand. I'm pretty sure anyone who's ever seen Menomena live has already noticed this sort of things but I've never seen Menomena live, mind you. *tries to hold back buckets of tears*

Well, at least I saw two-thirds of the band on stage, which brings a speckle of happiness to my life.



During the Boy Ant instrumental at Bruar Falls, the funniest thing happened: Danny went to the bathroom, that was located right behind him, with his bass... then had to do a mad dash outside for the next song. He also made a sudden "you can't stop the beat!" shout out line that received mere snickers from the crowd. *sigh*

As a final pointless note, I will add that I was standing right by Matt Berninger of The National, at the Bruar Falls gig. I believe Menomena has opened a few shows for them so it was nice of him to show solidarity.

All in all, mission accomplished. A great album by a greatly talented musician. All that's left to do now is wait for a solo album from Justin Harris...

Setlist



The Ramona Falls setlist looks like those childhood book where illustrations replace actual words. If you've already heard the songs, you'll be able to fill in the blanks.

Thu 17 Sep – Ramona Falls @ Pianos setlist
1. Diamond Shovel
2. Russia
3. I Say Fever
4. The Darkest Day
5. Bellyfulla
6. Boy Ant
7. Going Once, Going Twice
8. Salt Sack
9. Always Right
10. Clover
11. Melectric

Fri 18 Sep – Ramona Falls @ Bruar Falls setlist
1. Diamond Shovel
2. Russia
3. I Say Fever
4. The Darkest Day
5. Bellyfulla
6. Boy Ant
7. Going Once, Going Twice
8. Salt Sack
9. Clover
10. Melectric

++ Plus ++
> Flickr Set of Ramona Falls Pianos gig

> Download Ramona Falls - I Say Fever
> Download Ramona Falls - Russia
> Stream KSPC interview with Brent

> YouTube: Ramona Falls - Clover (Fan Video)
> YouTube: Ramona Falls - Russia (Live @ Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa, CA 08/23/09)
> YouTube: Brent recording Going Once, Going Twice in his living room
> YouTube: Christopher Frogken and Brent star in the best PSA video
> YouTube: Untitled new Menomena song @ PDX Pop Now!

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