DANNY SEIM | the Multi-instrumentalist
JUSTIN HARRIS | the Multi-instrumentalist
Pioneer Courthouse Square
On a hot July afternoon, the two remaining members of Menomena, Justin Harris and Danny Seim, are setting up for their first rehearsal since last September inside the former pipe organ house that serves as both the band’s rehearsal space and Harris’s home. Seim assembles a drum set that looks child-size beside his six-foot-seven frame, and Harris plays a riff on his baritone saxophone before handing it to their newest touring bandmate, singer-songwriter Holcombe Waller.
“Doesn’t it start on a G?” Waller asks.
“Could be,” Harris answers, “it’s been so long since I’ve played it.” Which isn’t that unusual; Menomena has historically taken long breaks to record new albums, and this September marks the release of their fifth, Moms. The band’s last two critically lauded efforts established it as Portland’s homegrown answer to Radiohead. But that only sets the stakes higher for Moms: it marks the first record Menomena has crafted as a duo after the departure of the third founding member, Brent Knopf, in a breakup that was watched like a soap opera by local and national press.
Much has been made of the band’s unusually democratic, sometimes dysfunctional creative process, in which each member separately pens an equal number of songs. Journalists initially gave a software program Knopf created almost super-musical powers, describing an Oz-like matrix that would cut up rhythms and reassemble them into perfectly polished songs. (It was mainly just a recording tool they no longer use.) Then, during the troubled creation of their last album, Mines, the press reported that the band’s songwriting was done purely via e-mail. Neither process quite hits the mark, particularly now.
“It seems like no matter how hard we try to sit in a room together and write like traditional bands do, we can’t do it well,” Harris admits. Instead, he and Seim come together for some initial jamming; then they take those recordings home and refine them before passing them on to the other person for further embellishment—each handoff layering on lush complexities and musical turns more akin to plays with scenes than traditional verse/chorus construction.
“We’re adding stuff that the other person wouldn’t normally think of on his own,” Harris says, pointing to the first track, “Plumage,” which he initially envisioned with only hand claps—until Seim added driving drumbeats. In the past, this process resulted in a lot of strained compromise among three members pushing separate agendas. Now, with only the two, who’ve been playing together since high school, the process flows surprisingly smoothly.
“It’s less important these days to get our way, and more important to feel good about what we’re doing,” says Seim, shortly before breaking into the hand claps that begin “Plumage.” “In that regard, I’m more excited about this record than I’ve been in a while.” —AS
SHOWS TO KNOW: POP MUSIC
Sept 5–9 For one magical long weekend, over 165 bands fan out across 17 venues, lighting up the entire city like a sonic firecracker. Highlights this year include big-name indie darlings Passion Pit and Beirut, mash-up god Girl Talk, local groups with much-anticipated new albums like Helio Sequence, alt-rock throwbacks like Dinosaur Jr. and Portland’s long-defunct Hazel, and the launch of a tech conference component (to follow further in SXSW’s footsteps) called Portland Digital eXperience (PDX). —AS For ticket info, showtimes, and venue info, visit musicfestnw.com.
Crosby, Stills, & Nash
Sept 12 It’s been over 40 years since CSN invited us into their house. These three cats might’ve aged, but they’re still very, very fine in their vocal harmonies and overlapping guitars. They’ve even managed to survive long enough to see pop music rediscover the style they made famous (we’re talking about you, Fleet Foxes). —AS $48.50–90.50. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway. pcpa.com
Sept 27 This New Zealander stole our collective hearts while stealing the show as Gotye’s cameo lover on last year’s ubiquitous “Sombody That I Used to Know.” Did it come as any surprise then that the virtuosic vocalist would go on to bigger and better things? With an ear for both experimentation and melody, profusely live-looping and layering both vox and beats, Kimbra's on a fast track to becoming our new favorite pop icon. —KM $17.50–20. Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St. 503-284-8686. wonderballroom.com
David Byrne/St. Vincent
Oct 18 Inspired by a benefit concert by Björk and the Dirty Projectors, the dreamteam of Byrne and St. Vincent embarked on an intense collaborative songwriting process. So far their partnership has resulted in the album Love This Giant—12 songs blending the best traits of both artists and backed almost exclusively with bespoke brass arrangements. —KM $43–53.50. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway. pcpa.com