Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: Ramona Falls - intuit - due out August 18th on Barsuk

No one wants summer to be over, but it would almost be worth it to push the clock forward just a little faster just so everyone had a chance to hear Ramona Falls debut LP 'Intuit' a little sooner (Due out August 18th on Barsuk). Ramona Falls is the moniker used by Brent Knopf, one of the three frontmen (it's safe to say they're all frontmen) of Portland's very own Menomena. These guys seem to be overflowing with musical ideas, as this is the second solo project to split off of Menomena, while the band continues to put out new material at the same time. Ramona Falls is a slightly different beast than bandmate Danny Seim's project Lackthereof. Both have characteristics that come out in Menomena, but Ramona falls sounds more like if Menomena collaborated with Arcade Fire, or some other sort of orchestral pop group..but don't let my simplified description mislead you.

I got to see Ramona Falls as a solo guitar act last fall at CMJ and its astonishing how much Brent has been able to flesh out the songs on this album. When I heard about this project a month or two again, I was intrigued but not overly excited, recalling not being completely bowled over by his performance. No doubt some of the amazing guests he called on to help him realize his vision helped catapult this release into the running for my favorite album of the year. Barsuk's website says that 35 different friends appear on the album (including members from two of my favorite Portland acts: Talkdemonic and the Helio Sequence..I swear there must be something in the water over there).

The songs on Intuit inhabit icy landscapes, hilly valleys, and grandiose cathedrals, without ever feeling distant or losing their emotional intimacy. After being treated to a sneak preview listen of record (it hasn't leaked yet, thank god), the thing that sets it apart from Menomena's sometimes frenetic, almost claustrophobic arrangements is Ramona Falls' sense of atmosphere, or just gigantic space. For some, creating music space means adding reverb, but Ramona Falls creates space with its instrumental textures and elaborate compositions. It's space also does not mean that it feels sparse at all. Every song is delightfully full, especially the the beautiful chorus jaunt "Bellyfulla" containing "more happiness than a body can hold." Melancholy is no stranger on Intuit either. The particularly sorrowful album closer "Diamond Shovel" strips down to a single guitar and Brent's voice and its wonderfully subtle vibrato.

The hairpin turns one comes to expect from listening to Menomena albums are also present here. "Russia" and my personal favorite on the album (so far), "Clover" are great examples of songs that will do complete 180's several times over the course of a song. The drop of the mechanized drum beat and time signature switcharoo in "Russia" is a great example of an unexpected "Oh shit! No he didn't!" moment. Brent's surprisingly distinctive piano playing is also a big crossover for Menomena fans. I know i have mentioned Menomena a lot in this review, but rest assured, Ramona Falls is able to stand on its own as a truly unique and separate entity.

Once again, intuit drops August 18th from Barsuk, and I hope this review has been able to entice a few of you to check it out. The catchy opener "Melectric" and "Salt Sack" are available to listen to on Ramona Falls myspace..enjoy!

1 comment:

Jess said...

I totally agree. As another lucky listener that was treated to a sneak preview, I was incredibly impressed by "Intuit". The album surges with emotional honesty. There is something really special going on between the notes of these songs. It is one of those rare albums that leaves you feeling like you've had a transformative experience. I'm so excited for it to come out! I know Menomena always hides little secrets in their album art, so I'm hoping the Ramona Falls packaging contains similar Easter eggs.