MENOMENA "Friend and Foe" Barsuk LAND OF TALK "Applause Cheer Boo Hiss" The Rebel Group

Friday, March 30, 2007

NEVER STRAIGHTFORWARD yet endowed with lucid pop appeal, Menomena's "Friend and Foe" is the sort of experimental rock that won't clear the club.

This Portland, Ore., trio starts by using a computer program to create loops that anchor its compositions, and it does lots of instrument switching. Despite such techniques, its new album never sounds geeky or mechanical; it's punk-funk that doesn't trudge through well-worn grooves, and it's pop-rock that's tangy as well as sweet. Sonic chaos lurks under the songs, which sport such punny titles as "Air Aid" and "Muscle'n Flo," but the distorted bass and off-kilter piano are countered by friendlier tones of acoustic guitar and three-part vocals that sometimes even harmonize. On such songs as the aptly titled "Weird," the effect is odd, but agreeably so.

As proclaimed by the punky guitar that introduces "Applause Cheer Boo Hiss," Land of Talk is the noisier of the two groups. On that first song, "Speak to Me Bones," singer-guitarist Elizabeth Powell sounds like a young Patti Smith with a more direct message: "Stop hitting on girls . . . stop spitting on girls," Powell commands. Elsewhere on its seven-song mini-album, the group varies the attack, with slower tempos and a few songs, notably "Sea Foam," for which its vocalist adopts a gentler approach. More typical, however, is "All My Friends," whose unprintable chorus takes the group back to its essence: Powell's distorted guitar and keen indignation.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hotel.

Listen to an audio clip of Menomena

Listen to an audio clip of Land of Talk

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