Friend and Foe

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Though Menomena often peg themselves as an experimental band, and to some extent very much are an experimental band -- they create most of their songs using a homemade computer program that loops their instrumental riffs until they come up with something whole -- especially in the rhythm section, where the bass and drums play off one another intricately, blending punk- and funk-inspired beats with more straightforward rock emphases, they also have a delicate sense of melody and composition that balances these heavier underpinnings and makes the band rather poppy at times. It's a nice contrast, the lighter keyboards and almost nasally indie rock vocals (which all three members share) against the pounding drums and ominous saxophone. Musically, there's a lot happening on Friend and Foe, their first release with Barsuk -- different bits entering and exiting -- but it's not overwhelming or pretentious, because the band knows what it takes to create a song, and so they can then deconstruct its more typical notions and rebuild it into something that, while it may have recognizable and approachable parts, is more unconventional. "Air Aid" begins with a "Kashmir"-inspired bassline, accented by xylophones and electric guitars and programmed percussion, but it's headed by softer, introspective vocals that, strangely enough, closely resemble Trey Anastasio's. By the end of the piece, there's a kind of intentional and practiced chaos in the interplay between the voices and the instruments, but it's never loud or out-of-control. Instead, it's exciting and complex but still absolutely accessible, still catchy and poppy. The opener, "Muscle 'N Flo," almost sounds like Modest Mouse playing an Ashley Parker Angel song, while "Rotten Hell" uses majestic vocal harmonies and clean piano chords that swirl in and out of each other as if in a kind of syncopated, truncated round, the kind of thing that sounds simple enough at first but gets more and more captivating with each listen. Friend and Foe may be part unbridled energy, part thoughtful arrangement, part innovative experimentation, but it's the synthesis of these that makes it so fantastic, and makes Menomena one of the most alluring bands to come along in a while.

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