"Have you seen your ghost? / It says things that you won't"
There are countless analogies that can be attributed to what I experience when I listen to Menomena's new album. I like to think (or rather it is my interpretation) that, when "Queen Black Acid" begins Mines, you are being handcuffed to a man slowly descending into alcoholism in an attempt to futilely mask the fact that his life is falling apart. Lines so insignificant yet so revealing as that quote up there boil over the subject's subconscious to be heard by others, and, ultimately, you. Let the music engulf you and Mines can be the mot depressing album you'll ever hear. But the album is such a masterful character study, I have to recommend the album despite that necessary evil.
At face value, the playful bass and bright chords of opener "Queen Black Acid" can seem like your standardly quaint indie rock song. The same can be said for second track, "Taos", whose ramshackle drum parts and blithe interchange of instruments are charming and seem almost uplifting. I see "Queen Black Acid" as the listener's exposition to the story of the album's subject. You can tell from the lyrics that he is having relationship troubles ("You barely notice what I say / You're busy looking around the room instead."), but it is also revealed that his internal weakness may be just if not more troubling ("You're five foot five not one hundred pounds / I'm scared to death of every single ounce"). "Taos" seems to be high on a misplaced confidence, as the subject seems to find so much glee in knowing what you might like, despite admitting that he really has no idea. I say it sounds like the the subject is drunk, but it could be a multitude of things. What is certain, though, is that, from that point on, things get immensely dark, and by the end, it's all you can do to keep from crying for this person.
Piano inflections, rummaging toms and shakers drop out of the mix on third track "Killemall", leaving lead singer Justin Harris with nothing but an ominous bassline to say the lyric that begins this piece. It's one of those moments that, from that point on, you can't not listen to the lyrics, and, from that point on, the lyrics become increasingly bleak. "Dirty Cartoons"'s chorus is a call-and-response between Harris and a mob; he wails "Go home", they sigh "I'd like to". First single, "Five Little Rooms" finds the subject describing a McDonalds in a suburban shopping mall, then snidely remarks "All this could be yours some day". All the negativity turns outright transcendent on "Tithe", as a faint piano line underscores Harris as he sings, "Spending the best years / Of a childhood / Horizontal on the floor / Like a bobsled / Without the teamwork / Or the televised support." Those pauses he takes are painfully trenchant and I find myself inexplicably clinging to them as I listen to the track. Mines has many of these moments, and the overriding negativity can be strangely satisfying, even if you have no idea why.
Does Mines have a happy ending? As Harris intones "I fear I'm showing my age" leading into the album's closer, you wouldn't think so. But on the final track, itself, a glimmer of light appears, but it isn't from the finding of solution, but acceptance. When I think of "Sleeping Beauty", that final track, I imagine the subject of Mines kneeling at the foot of a bed, running his fingers through the hair of a woman. It could be a new love or an offspring, but I see it as less of a turning point, and more of a clean slate of the vicarious sort. Some may not find that particularly reassuring, but, based on how Menomena seem to get themselves lost within the song's dream-like reverb, I would say they think so.
I'm sorry I didn't write anything about the actual music of Mines. I felt the lyrical content was brilliant enough to warrant a standalone analysis. I promise you this, though: This will not be last time I will be writing about this album.