Menthol Hill – Letter

Menthol Hill

I like people who are not embarrassed to externalize their childlike inclinations. Some of the strangest and most beautiful music I have encountered has come from everyday people who are often hardly aware of themselves. For instance, I was once on the last bus coming out of downtown Portland early in the morning, where the bus driver did not seem to realize that there were any passengers remaining – and after what I’m sure must have been a long night, the driver broke out into an intense yodeling session. The strange and jubilant melodies rising above the din of air breaks and engine noise is more memorable than many rock concerts I’ve been to. Children love to experiment with their voices, but if you continue into adulthood – at least in public – you clearly have lost touch with “reality,” as that is no way for a rational person to behave. Not surprisingly then, most of the really honest and innovative improvisation comes from people living on the street – who, crazy or not, have lost touch with the everyday citizenry. Thankfully, there are those who have not lost the ability to play with sound and apply their findings to their musical output. Menthol Hill is one such group, and while at times they suffer from the problem of their music coming across as an inside joke, their “immature” approach often reveals complex emotive content with greater ease than more accepted forms of indie rock.

“Letter,” unlike their more haphazard adventures (e.g. “Hooter on the Pooter”), is pop perfection with their own personal touch. The opening statement “…so I’m writing you this letter, come home soon” comes across as a mere formality, introducing us to Kedron Parker’s voice. As this sentence is elaborated on, there is the entrance of a bass, and then a backing vocal … a pause … and then the whole band kicks in, this time with generous overdrive. The tone of the song is exacting, full of growing anguish with subtle crescendos and vocal power – but also teary-eyed desire with oddly placed major chords chiming in. The backing vocals create a double-meaning as the same words are sung as the lead, but the emotions driving them seem at times to be quite distinct. A simple yet very powerful technique, it imbues “Letter” with a creepy intensity to the mood, which is at once difficult yet still very engaging. The song ends in the same way it began, except now after the catharsis of the body of the “letter,” the words have garnered emotional attributes not present in their initial meaning.

Menthol Hill have worked with everyone from Iggy Pop to Dolly Parton and have spent time performing in groups as varied as the Motels and the Frogs.