Quick, what does a BCE Greek mathematician have in common with a radioactive element that was first synthesized over two thousand years after his death? If you had guessed nothing, you would have been correct up until a few weeks ago. “Archimedes Plutonium” is the fifth track on Prophet, and aside from being the strongest track on the album, its title really sums up what Brent Knopf (formerly of Menomena) does so well with his music. Taking completely different sonic elements and making them feel like they’ve always belonged together is something of a specialty of his. The man is a musical alchemist.
Ramona Falls was initially just a side project, but became a fulltime gig when Knopf parted ways with Menomena early last year. Freed of that obligation, he had all of 2011 to focus on the writing and recording of Prophet. It is abundantly clear that a great deal of care has gone into this album. The production is so sumptuous and refined that it almost feels inhuman at times. Every single nuance is audible, sitting perfectly in the mix, duking it out with what sometimes sounds like a dozen other instruments. But despite the record’s business, it rarely outshines the quality and creativity of the songwriting.
Knopf’s skills as an editor/producer aren’t a well-kept secret; Menomena’s output was all recorded using software the band had built themselves. Eyes closed, this is a Menomena record. It just has one singer instead of three. All the trademarks are here: densely woven instrumentation, unpredictable song structures, and a lack of discretion. The floodgates are wide open from that acid trip of an album cover, to the opening staccato piano line, to the plaintive fade out on “Helium.”
Knopf’s vocals, while agreeable and listenable, never reach the heights of his best moments with Menomena. He’s also uncharacteristically interested in love songs. “Are we friends?/ Are we more?” begins “Proof,” with silvery guitars that eventually transmute into a concoction of echo, grime and reverb. “Sqworm” is a dark, orchestral, torrential downpour, with Knopf adopting an almost ominous tone as he repeatedly insists: “It doesn’t come natural.”
There are also moments of humour that suggest Knopf doesn’t take himself as seriously as his music would sometimes indicate: “The world is my oyster/ You’re allergic to shellfish,” he sings on “Fingerhold.” Prophet is both eclectic and balanced, and the powerful imagination behind it makes it easier to forgive the occasional overindulgence. No, it may not be Menomena, but it’s still pretty damn good.
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