Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
The failure to communicate is THE most agreeable trigger mechanism for discerning and obtaining subject matter for any lyrical composition. It is the consternation that comes directly from a situation where one doesn't understand another or the actions of another that is tantamount to a boy or girl breaking up with you, but more substantial and less fleeting.
When the failure to communicate and exclusion are combined into one singular sentiment, that's when the cocktail gets sweet, depressing and ambitious. Outside the windows tonight, on this moderately heated summer evening -- thanks to a week-long cold front, there is a bizarre blend of Saturday night revelry spiraling through the black air, tauntingly vibrant still at midnight, in this metropolitan area never known for being anywhere worth a party.
Driving through the city, you can hear Rick James bleeding audibly through the walls of a home and Tone Loc coming out of the corners of another. There's more music floating north up the hill, from the river. It's alive and finding every attentive person within range. This is severely abnormal and there's no telling what's gotten into everyone. It can serve as a reminder that there are others taking more advantage of being alive than you are.
Both of the thoughts can be examined separately or in one lump sum - as Portland trio Menomena does so expertly on its latest album Friend and Foe and its debut disc I Am The Fun Blame Monster!. There's the scene in Bottle Rocket where Anthony is sitting around Bob's pool and the female visitor poses the question to him, "You're really complicated aren't you?" Anthony responds, "I try not to be." Isn't this the way that everyone sees themselves from the inside out? There's never anything too difficult to crack. Everyone feels like they're being obvious, not opaque.
There's no better way to describe the three men of Menomena - Justin Harris, Brent Knopf and Danny Seim. They see the perceptible, the normal in their actions and manners, their songs. They are not easy to figure out, but it's their ongoing struggle to make the appropriate amount of sense out of the people who aren't in that band that makes all of their words so engrossing. It makes all of the many odd instruments they employ logical. They wouldn't be caught dead trying to figure out the world/other people in a typical fashion.
There's also the kind of feeling that falls over most people - a feeling that holds some back from stepping forward or going through uncertain doors - where they feel crippling social anxiety and a general sense of not belonging. It's a night air, filled with music and parties that can be heard in all directions, and not knowing where the line starts. The Dismemberment Plan has a song from Emergency & I where the protagonist feels uninvited until an invitation with his name in gold leaf on the front comes in the mail. He wasn't having much fun at the party until he got into the kitchen with his ex, who told him, after a buildup of pounding drums and belting guitars, "You are invited by anyone to do anyone/You are invited for all-time/You are so needed by everyone to do everything/You are so needed for all-time."
People - other people - are always seen to be enemies or adversaries until they tell you otherwise or until reasoning goes beyond a preponderance of a doubt. It all leads back to not understanding another person until they're ready for you to understand them. The title of Menomena's latest - which is just as astonishing audibly as it is visually; the greatest argument in 2007 against buying all of your records digitally - feasts on this idea of tension between themselves and everyone else.
Every man is an island, at least partially, but on that island are the many selves. Friends, if allowed footage on the island, are primed for potential betrayal. It can all go down in a cloud of dust or gunpowder. It's all there to listen to: the dissenters, the fiends, the weirdness, the hooks, the strident honesty, the experimentation, the shakiness, the aversions, the questionable stigmas and the resolutions. The band is expertly fighting the marginalization of indie music, with everything they do. It very well could make them friends, aka soon to be foes.