Home » Bands We Love » It’s Almost Always Heart Magic: Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping P/review

It’s Almost Always Heart Magic: Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping P/review

Of Montreal is not the sort of band that tends to wrack up casual followers.  They are eccentric, prolific, outrageous, pretentious, and as self indulgent as they are self deprecating.  They are also, without question, one of the most important pop rock bands making music right now.

Lead singer/songwriter (and sometimes the whole band itself) Kevin Barnes, was born in Ohio in 74′ and formed Of Montreal around the mid nineties in Athens Georgia, recording their first proper album “Cherry Peel” in 1997, for the now legendary Elephant 6 Collective.  With the exception of The Apples In Stereo (a rather ho-hum outfit from the get go), Of Montreal are one of the only popular E6 bands that continues to make music.  While we will never know what would have become of Neutral Milk Hotel if they were to have gone on making albums (though Jeff Mangum showed up at the E6 show in the city this week!!! ),  I think it is fair to say that more than ten years after their first album, Of Montreal is making the most exciting music of their career right now.

Though there is much to admire about Of Montreal during the first part of their band life, what they have gradually evolved into since the 2004 release of “Satanic Panic In The Attic” is an entirely different beast from the DIY recordings of “Cherry Peel,” or the freewheeling whimsy fuckfest of “The Gay Parade.”  Growing away from the psychedelic retro trappings that many other E6 style bands still struggle with and embracing electronic, funk, disco and glam rock elements, has elevated a once consistently prolific, but sometimes forgettable and grating band into one of the hottest acts now playing.  Their style reached a new peak on last year’s “Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?” easily their masterpiece thus far and an album that my love continues to grow for.  Barne’s lyrics found the perfect middle ground between being uber literate, neurotic, campy and sexy, while the music and production reached a level of sophistication that until that point had only been hinted at.  The juxtaposition between both elements lead to an album that was more streamlined and successfully diverse than anything the band had released before and at last it seemed as though Mr. Barne’s music had found the perfect counterpart to his highly evolved, theatricaly sexualized personality.  Here’s the video from “Gronlandic Edit ” off of “Hissing Fauna…”

Now, one year after “Hissing Fauna…”, the band has launched a large US and small European tour in promotion of their soon to be released follow up LP, “Skeletal Lamping,” and Jesus Christ folks, this album is a doozy.  It will turn you on and then refuse to get you off, until you’ve forgotten that you wanted to get off.  Then it will sneak up behind you, wave your arms around involuntarily, spin you around a few times, light you on fire and jizz all over your face. Then it will repeat this again and again and again.  The deciding factor for most people with this album will be in their tolerance/acceptance/enjoyment of this.

There are very few songs here, at least in the traditional sense, something that Mr. Barnes has made a deliberate point of.  It is clear that he wants to stretch the meaning of a pop album in new directions, and in some ways he truly succeeds.  Hooks and song fragments are thrown around with experimental passages and strange sound waves, oftentimes colliding and exploding into moments of such beauty, exuberance, passion and/or strangeness that the results really are breathtaking and unlike anything I’ve really ever heard before.  Genres fly out the window and return covered in glitter and strange foreign postage, songs start and stop without a moments notice, themes come and go before you’ve ever really realized what has been established, making this whole album sort of a game for the listener.  Much of this is really a great deal of fun, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, scattered on the floor, only to be re-arranged and made sense of by those willing to play.  However, though we live in an age of i-pod shuffling, constant cosmic DJs and attention spans that tire mid song, when one artist is making our song shuffle decisions for us, and decides where our enjoyment of a hook will begin and end, we are made uncomfortable.  I know many people with no attention spans for album listening will ironically site this record as being too much.  This is okay.  Not everyone is a puzzle person and in some ways I feel that it is too much as well.

Oftentimes I wish that certain themes and musical passages would return again later in the album or that some sort of general arch would be established throughout the course of this record, but the fact that Mr. Barnes doesn’t let this happen is without question a conscious choice, and one that I have chosen to accept because I appreciate him as an artist and love a lot of what is presented here.  The success of “Skeletal Lamping” with the public will depend a lot upon whether people share this appreciation with me.  Will they make the effort to assemble the scattered pieces for themselves, or will they merely look on with blank stares and scrunched noses, as they retreat back to the safer ways of more linearly established pop albums full of songs that they will most likely fast forward through anyways?

I have stayed away from mentioning specific songs from this album for two reasons; firstly that I received a promotional copy and that the proper street release date (Oct 21st 2008!!!!) is still a few weeks away and secondly because I feel that due to the nature of this album (multiple pieces of songs overlapping on single tracks, moments I love followed by moments I’m still uncertain of my feelings towards etc) makes it difficult to call attention to specific titled tracks.  Though I will post two “songs” here, I highly recommend heading over to Of Montreal’s blog to order a tangible, real life copy of the album.  There are tons of different ways to purchase it, whether traditionally on vinyl or disk or in digital formats that are accompanied by items ranging from tote bags to wall decorations.  If you are thinking about investing time and money in any sort of newish release this month, wait on Tv On The Radio and pick up this little baby.  “Dear Science” will still be around in it’s singular incarnation months from now but I don’t know how long all of these cool buying options for “Skeletal Lamping” will last.

I attended the soon to be infamous Of Montreal show at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan this past Friday night and it goes down as one of the most memorable shows I’ve ever seen. The bands blog will link you to plenty of show reviews all with pictures and set lists that are worth checking out, though I have to post this one of Kevin riding out in gold spandex speedos on a white stallion…

and this one of him as a vicar…

and this one of him with a gigantic fanny pack…

and this one of him as a courting centaur…

and this one of him coming back from the dead covered in shaving cream.

Here are two tracks from “Skeletal Lamping” and one old favorite from “Hissing Fauna…” for good luck.

Of Montreal-Wicked Wisdom

Of Montreal-An Eluardian Instance

Of Montreal-Bunny Ain’t No Kind Of Rider

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