With Menomena taking its sweet time delivering a follow-up to 2007’s nimbly experimental Friend And Foe, it’s no surprise that the band’s members—songwriting, multi-instrumentalist frontmen, every one of them—are seeking release outside the trio. Last year, Danny Seim added another installation to his Lackthereof album series, and now we have the debut of Ramona Falls, masterminded by Brent Knopf and featuring the talents of no fewer than 35 Portland-area collaborators.
As the story goes, Knopf visited each cluster of contributing friends—members of The Helio Sequence, Loch Lomond, Talkdemonic, Mirah, and Matt Sheehy, among others—on its home turf, jammed for two-plus hours, then meticulously carved Intuit’s 11 songs from the glut of material. But the story is more engaging than the finished work, and without, say, a documentary of the process, Knopf only succeeds in doing more of what Menomena does best (which is to say, “better than Ramona Falls”): carving out handsomely arranged albums overstuffed with ideas.
The problem with Intuit isn’t what’s on the record, it’s what’s missing. While Knopf embraces a similar loud/quiet dynamic, gone is the urgency and the weirdness, Menomena’s minor-chord promise of eventual resolution, and the unexpected honk of an errant saxophone. There are standout moments, like the fat drums of “I Say Fever” and the bursts of orchestral skronk on “Russia,” but even there, Knopf’s voice—too honeyed and too rarely freed from its yearning timidity—blurs things into a pretty, emotive mush. At the album’s end, on the gorgeous “Bellyfulla,” comes a glimpse of the intimacy of a “solo” endeavor, but the rest of Intuit is unfortunately mired in middle ground.