Menomena Hits Radio-Ready Groove, Accessible to the Masses

At the risk of over-generalizing an entire movement and genre, much of the problem with “alternative” or “indie” music is that so much of it feels detached, with a concerted effort not to sound like anything on the radio.

Perhaps in an attempt to avoid the saccharine, trite tendencies of pop radio, many of the bands without major-label contracts go out of their way to avoid the easy trappings that characterize these songs.

For some, this proved to be an effective strategy. For others, the irony-drench approach to songwriting made them inaccessible and, quite frankly, boring.

There will never be a day when Menomena will be radio-friendly. They’re far too idiosyncratic, and they say too many inappropriate things to share the same space as a Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. However, their identity as an alt-rock outfit involves a balancing act between the expected and the unexpected.

Just like formulaic modern pop music, where each key change in a Bruno Mars song has been scientifically designed for maximum emotional impact, you get the feeling that Menomena members Justin Harris and Danny Seim construct their songs with the precision and calculation of those top-40 hitmakers.

While this construction usually means that the resulting work feels stale and generic, Menomena’s approach is always unpredictable and feels like a logical extension of its songs.

The band displays a musical geography that rivals Of Montreal, but they balance this with the tight focus of a Spoon-type band.

Moms marks the band’s first release since the departure of founding member Brent Knopf. Students who wonder how this will affect the band’s sound, however, need not concern themselves. From the opening handclaps in “Plumage,” you know you’re in for something special and delightfully weird.

As the song progresses, more and more instruments are layered into the mix — piano, fuzzy guitars, even a few blasts of the saxophone — before the song climaxes in a blistering guitar solo.

This mini-house party song is followed by the grungy blast of “Capsule.” The album’s final track, “One Horse” plays like the band’s spaced-out version of a break-up song. Layers of strings and keyboards work side-by-side with distorted guitars and vocals, creating something that feels both subversive yet still utterly sincere in its execution.

Moms is not the band’s best album — that distinction still belongs to 2007’s Friend and Foe. It is, however, a joyous celebration. It’s a celebration of music, weirdness and the fact that you can make an addictive rock song that contains lyrics like “now I’m a failure / cursed with male genitalia” (“Pique”), and it somehow works.

— By Mark Rozeman