Menomena - Moms
It's well-known that having a band member leave can have a destabilising effect, and seeing Brent Knopf depart from Menomena must have set off alarm bells in fans' heads, and set them off asking the usual questions: would they make music again? If they did, would it be as good as what had come before? These questions were even more pertinent in the wake of 2010's Mines being regarded as their breakthrough, but (even though this may be difficult to fathom for some of you), Moms is just as good in places, and even better in others. Even when they decide to indulge themselves and go all-out, as they do on the eight-minute closing track 'One Horse', there's never any doubt that they're doing so with astonishing confidence, and it's this attribute that has allowed the now-duo of Justin Harris and Danny Seim to move into - whisper it - pop territory.
Not fully, of course: the album, when viewed as a whole, is still as odd as we've gotten used to from them. Any album that makes reference to a "nervous random stranger at a glory hole" two songs in can be nothing but. That song, 'Capsule', comes after the handclap-laden opener 'Plumage' has helped the duo to redefine where they stand, helped by a nagging synth hook and a palpable sense that they've tried to push things forward. Knopf was, in the band's own words, a 'major creative force', but the confidence displayed by their new, bigger sound hits home on 'Pique', where the theme of relationships (maternal and otherwise, as hinted by the album's title) starts to take on greater significance - "Now I'm getting used to getting used by you, so much so that I'm starting to feel right at home on the whipping post" - as does their ability to pull a stunning chorus from absolutely nowhere; the brass-assisted sound explored on that song gives their already-layered sound even more depth.
There's no question that this record contains some of their most immediate material yet, but the fact that the duo decided to release the slow-burning, piano-driven 'Heavy Is As Heavy Does' (with its stunning opening couplet, "Heavy are the branches hanging from my fucked-up family tree / Heavy was my father, a stoic man of pride and privacy") as the album's lead single proves that they're still well able to take risks. They needed to prove that they could get by without Knopf, and they've done that in emphatic fashion, sometimes in a surprisingly aggressive style. Neither do they pull any punches lyrically, and that's saying something, even for an album this personal; 'Skintercourse' is the standout track on an album full of high points, and it features some of the best lyrics I've heard all year - "I fell in love with the feeling of being in love / I should have known it wouldn't last" is merely the tip of the iceberg. Sounding more direct and focused than before, Harris and Seim have upped their game sonically, musically and creatively, and the results are phenomenal. You could even call them Menomenal, if you wanted, but I'm not going there.