When police finally found the statue, her arms were hacked off at the shoulders, her thick thighs were severed hollow trunks and a deep saw wound cut around her elegant neck. But somehow, battered and cracked, a vestige of what she once was, the statue was undeniably moving. So moving that Portland, Ore., experimental indie three-piece Menomena opted to photograph it in stereogram and put it on the cover of their latest album, Mines (Sub Pop).
"The statue on the cover is actually a statue that is up at the place we recorded the album," explained Menomena's Danny Seim. "The statue was stolen like a year ago and recovered in a closet somewhere in Portland. Apparently these meth-heads were trying to steal it and sell it to feed their addiction and they chopped the shit out of it. They cut off her arms, they were trying to sever her neck they did all these crazy things to the statue, and then a year later when it was recovered and brought back to the estate, it was just in complete ruins. We thought that might be an appropriate visual to sum up the music."
Comprised of Seim, Brent Knopf and Justin Harris, Menomena shirks traditional band roles. Each member sings, plays a variety of instruments and records his own tracks on computer looping software designed by the band. It's the last, laborious part where the mutilated statue becomes an apt metaphor. Each song is e-mailed out, cut open, chopped apart and beefed up by the other members. For Mines, this piecemeal process took over three years.
"It's kind of hard at first to hear, because it's like your baby that you've worked on so hard. Then to have it completely transformed into something else, it's hard to stomach at first," said Seim. "But I think with this album in particular, it made me personally trust the other two guys more and realize that no song is complete until all three of us get our grubby hands on it."
Mines, in contrast to 2007's Friend and Foe and 2003's I Am the Fun Blame Monster!, feels instantly accessible. The band lets some of their signature hyperactive blips and complex layering fall by the wayside. In place of the chaos, there are perfectly timed piano twinkles, sudden chirps of sax, echoing rattles of tambourine and thrashing percussion beats. In a review of the album on pitchfork.com, author Joe Tangari wrote:
"They seem to have evolved into a band much more at ease with itself, and consequently a lot less preoccupied with blowing your head off every eight bars."
But that's not to say Mines isn't complex. On the contrary, it takes at least a half-dozen listens to articulate anything more descriptive than "Damn." Songs like "TAOS" and "BOTE," are instant ass-shaking garage rock anthems, with crashing drums and driving guitars. In "TAOS," Harris confidently belts out, "Oh, I'll bet I know what you like / at least think I know what you might / I'm not the most cocksure guy / but I get more bold with every smile."
Other tracks, like "Tithe" and "Sleeping Beauty," allow you to catch your breath, but still demand your attention lyrically.
"In the past, I think the way we wrote our lyrics, we were mostly just trying to get the syllables to fit the melodies that we came up with because we weren't really trying to put a lot of thought into the lyrics," said Seim. "But I think on this album, we definitely put more of a focus on the words."
For example, on "Tithe," Seim hauntingly sings the refrain: "And nothing sounds appealing." That apathy, he elaborated, comes from a place of spiritual questioning.
"Typically my songs tend to take more of a religious bent, maybe than the other guys, from my past and from either trying to distance myself from my past or just trying to grapple with it as an adult male and what do I believe now?" Seim explained.
Other songs, like "Oh Pretty Boy, You're Such a Big Boy," explore equally weighty themes like aging and not being able to satisfy a lover's expectations: "All my love was in one place / 'til I, I let it escape / and all my love is not enough / to fill your half empty cup ... and I fear, oh I fear, I'm showing my age."
"It's easy for me, at least, to forget the fact that we've been at this for a decade now, and we're not just the young early 20-somethings we were when we first started doing this band," said Seim. "Not only has the music scene changed, or what we listen to, but our lives have changed. We're, for better or for worse, adults now."
And Mines is an unquestionably adult effort. It aches with regret and longing, but tempers the heaviness with a soaring musical maturity. Like the weathered statue on the cover of the album, the band members may have seen better days. But their music is all the more interesting for the journey.