I Am the Fun Blame Monster

(Muuuhahaha!; 2003)

By Amir Nezar | 10 October 2007

Yeah, yeah, I know, we're now all post-modernists, or, at the very least, modernists. No originality exists. No real truth exists. What I'm saying right now is coming from a truly unreliable narrator. And as for art? Well, let's just say it doesn't matter so much how it sounds, so much as what the thought behind it is. Right? Right?

I don't know about you, but even I slip into my own little frustrated po-mo/modernist shell, rant inefficaciously against the gutters of the good days, the rehashers of the dungheap, nonchalantly dropping comments about a given premise that no originality exists. I, like my indie brethren, must drop obvious influences for whatever band I write about, precisely because everyone must be riffing off someone else. Thank God that every once in a while a band like Menomena comes around to help fit my foot back into my mouth.

Not since the Books (or maybe TV on the Radio) has any band I've listened to (there are a lot of them) blown up my critical biases like Menomena. I want to call this album a revelation, but it seems too grandiose for a below-the-radar, nine-song album from a band that almost no one's ever heard of. Let's just say it's startlingly original, uniformly beautiful, and heartbreakingly intimate. This is not indie rock. It is just…capital-M, Music. The kind that gives you something to say, for weeks on end, to those friends of yours who ask, "So what exactly are your favorite bands?" or, "Have you heard anything really amazing lately?"

The concept is ingenious enough. Long story short: Menomena make music by recording themselves through a computer program that splices their pieces into loops, which they engineer into glorious pop hooks and songs with absolutely gorgeous melodies. Kudos to them for actually designing the program for themselves. But it's not just the method that makes this often disorienting amalgam of sonic wonder so impressive. By God, just listen to how incredible it sounds. It is a pure lovely swirl of textured sounds, tinkering drumming, great bass lines, melodic guitar, and haunting piano lines, all blended, broken down, re-configured, clattered together, and pieced together with a superb understanding of space. It's so profound because all this description sounds so pretentious, so art-rock - but the music is so accessible, so…familiar, that you quickly forget that there was an incredible amount of attention put into every deceptively complicated arrangement.

From the get-go, simple elements are mixed into incredible pop songs. On "Cough Coughing," a bouncy bass line on a paper drum loop gives way to a haunting, rising set of piano chords that loop in and out of the drum configuration, echoing unexpectedly. The percussion is toyed with, cut to pieces, and then a new loop comes in on a synth warble to introduce a jazzy piece of synth tremor-laden, keyboarded, ethereal pleasure before a simple piano line pushes it into bliss. Everything that's been broken down starts to weave together slightly differently to form the wonderful, restrained finish of the track. "The Late Great Libido," only improves upon the weird formula, to heartbreakingly stunning effect. Cut-ups are used with such virtuoso flair, sax lines are brought into the fold, and a glorious, melancholy atmosphere begins to bleed out of the speaker, before a melodic, jagged guitar metaphorically cuts apart the piece as it cuts itself apart literally. It's incredible stuff.

There's not a ton of variation, so the group isn't spread too thin. Instead, within a reasonable scope they vary their sound just enough to keep it continuously fresh, but cohesive. The end result is an overwhelming feeling of a push to something indefinable at the end. Perhaps that end is simply the guitar attack that makes for the album's most boldly angry moment, or perhaps it's not. But the momentum of the thing is undeniable, and it sweeps away with such effortless, humble majesty both you and your preconceptions. This is a breathtaking, brilliant piece of musical craftsmanship. The more it sinks in, the more weightless it makes you feel. The First Menomena Album, or I am the Fun Blame Monster, is a piece of studied, original genius, through and through.