CD Review of Friend and Foe by Menomena

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Friend and Foe
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Barsuk
Released: 2007
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If you’re the kind of person who makes sure to pay a daily visit to Pitchfork or Stereogum – or for whom the phrase “Oregon post-rock collective” results in a tingle down the spine – you’re no doubt already aware of the hipster buzz surrounding Friend and Foe, Menomena’s second release (or third, if you count Under an Hour, 2005’s instrumental dance-performance soundtrack album). If you are not this type of person, prepare to become acquainted with 2007’s first Band Most Likely To…, because for once, the hype is rooted in something other than doofus echo-chamber feedback.

It isn’t perfect, and it definitely isn’t for everyone, but Friend and Foe skates the frozen surface between old-fashioned melodic pop and experimental rock more successfully than most, or maybe even all, of the (admittedly few) albums that have made the attempt. The standing complaints about the band still apply – namely, that they have an irritating habit of refusing to allow a theme to fully develop before dropping it and swerving into seemingly unrelated territory – and the results can still feel schizophrenic and/or aggravatingly choppy. For a lot of listeners, it will feel annoyingly insular, if not cutesy – like being talked down to through music.

Here’s the thing, though: Friend and Foe is more than that. At first blush, these songs may seem haphazardly assembled and purposely, bafflingly obtuse, but further listens reveal just how carefully they’ve been decorated with an assortment of barbed pop hooks. Whether this absolves Menomena of the sin of bathing said hooks (along with seemingly everything else on the album) in a gooey mountain of reverb is another question.

Either way, given enough listens, you’re liable to find yourself whistling along with the Seven-Dwarves-in-Hell refrain of “Boyscount’n,” and anticipating each abrupt shift in tempo and/or melody. The grating indie-boy vocals (and that goddamn reverb) may keep you from truly making friends with Foe, but it’s kind of like a vaguely happy dream where nothing really seems to make sense – the overall effect is a little disturbing, but you still want more.

~Jeff Giles