Posts tagged: Of Montreal

of Montreal – Micro University

By , October 2, 2012 10:00 am

Because of Montreal never does anything half-assed, Kevin Barnes and company will be releasing a voluminous rarities compilation on October 23, entitled Daughter of Cloud (sixteen originals and an out-of-left-field Buffalo Springfield cover), just a few months after releasing one of 2012′s weirdest albums. “Micro University” is one of the confirmed tracks, and reminds me a bit of the band’s emphasis on funk on Skeletal Lamping along with the more straightforward pop inflections of Satanic Panic in the Attic.

of Montreal – “Micro University”

Animal Collective – Rosie Oh

By , August 30, 2012 10:00 am

Psychedelia/freak-folk flagbearers/nutjobs Animal Collective have already started streaming the follow-up to 2009′s critically-acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavilion, and the buzz across the Interwebs is (predictably) stellar. It’s more of a return to the band’s earlier, stranger sounds (see: Strawberry Jam, Feels), with just a bit of the pop sheen that MPP appropriated so well in evidence. I’m not as high on it as most (full/embarrassing disclosure: not a huge early AnCo fan), but a few songs have caught my ear. “Rosie Oh” is Animal Collective doing their own, blissfully unaware, thing, all Wonka-esque sound effects and a bubbling psychedelic background that reminds me a bit of new of Montreal, complete with a necessarily strong, off-kilter hook. Centipede Hz is set to be released on Domino on September 4.

Animal Collective – “Rosie Oh”

of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

By , February 8, 2012 10:00 am

of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

Polyvinyl 2012

Rating: 7/10

It was sometime around the third or fourth extended coda, amidst buzzsaw guitar riffs, cheesy sci-fi space effects, the jarring tonal shifts and the occasional burst of fire alarm noise, that I resigned myself to a particular fact: Kevin Barnes is never going to change. Or, to put it another way – he’s always going to change, usually with a middle finger aimed in the general direction of his last record. And really, there’s no incentive for him to rein himself in: ever since The Sunlandic Twins of Montreal has become a one-man show, and certainly no one is holding their breath waiting for Polyvinyl to edit their biggest draw. So it is that we get an album like Paralytic Stalks, one that is as sprawling, egomaniacal and batshit insane as any Barnes has put down.  This lack of an editor is what leads to a song like the divisive “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” a song so obviously anti-commercial and contrary to what of Montreal have built their sound on that it’s less an actual song and more a referendum on just how far Barnes can go nowadays before people bat an eye. Chances are this one won’t be on an Outback commercial anytime soon.

Make no mistake – this is nothing new for Barnes. Sure, he has been talking up 20th century minimalism in interviews – Penderecki, Ives, Schoenberg – but those are just convenient touchstones for an increasingly out-there experimentalism that has been a recurring theme in late-period of Montreal: Hissing Fauna’s “The Past is a Grotesque Animal;” “You Do Mutilate” off of 2010’s False Priest; the scattershot framework of Skeletal Lamping. The difference between those songs and “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” though, is the latter’s utter lack of purpose. It’s simply there, a seven-and-a-half minute-long burst of atonality and spoken word nightmares, which creates quite the atmosphere but begs the question: why? It’s cold and it’s clinical, all feelings Barnes was probably going for, but in the context of Paralytic Stalks, an album predicated on Barnes being more heart-on-his-sleeve than he’s ever been before, it’s worse than pointless.

It’s a shame, because, for much of Paralytic Stalk’s first half and even for most of the more unhinged second act, Kevin Barnes strikes a near-perfect balance between pop mastery and a delightful sort of weird. This, of course, has a lot to do with Barnes’ famously acerbic lyrics, which take a turn for the better here despite his propensity for using language only an English professor could love.  He hasn’t sounded this engaged since Hissing Fauna, nor have his vocals ever sounded quite so strained. That’s the good thing about Paralytic Stalks  – even when you can’t really understand what Barnes is saying, between the deranged yelps and those easily understood tidbits (“It’s fucking sad / that we need a tragedy / to gain a fresh perspective in our lives” goes one stomach-punch of an opening), you can generally get the feeling that this is coming from a dark and deeply personal place. Nothing is ever going to stop Barnes from naming a song “Malefic Dowery” or writing lyrics like “naturally I want to help you invoke the architect of salutary memes / our heads are pregnant with divine mechanics but, oh, how we’re tyrannized / by tentacles of their ferine stupidity.” But occasionally a gem will pop up like “once more I turn to my crotch for counsel,” or Barnes will descend back down to the tongue of humans for a moment and speak with touching frankness (“I spend my waking hours haunting my life / I made the one I love start crying tonight” goes the weeping refrain from “Spiteful Intervention”). It’s a reminder that of Montreal is, first and foremost, a vehicle for Barnes to express his innermost grievances and joys, and given the embarrassingly bare-bones style and narcissist bent, you have to admire just how plainly he lays all his cards out on the table.

Where Paralytic Stalks really shines, however, is through its hooks. The sequence from “Spiteful Intervention” through “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” is Barnes’ strongest since Hissing Fauna, and it’s blissfully unaware of the existential baggage it has to carry. “We Will Commit Wolf Murder” and “Malefic Dowery” are probably two of the most “traditional” of Montreal songs here; the former a catchy pop-rock number with a muscular bass line and an out-of-left-field vamp in the outro, while the latter calls to mind the sweeter melodies of the Elephant 6 days and one of the more pleasantly lush productions on the record. “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff,” meanwhile, might be the best track here, not only for its surprisingly jagged guitar solo and propulsive chorus but also for the way it perfectly bridges Paralytic Stalk’s quite disparate halves. “I can think of nothing but getting my revenge / make those fuckers pay,” Barnes screams, and that’s where the guitar really goes off, spiraling up into a glorious distortion before abruptly tailing off into the song’s second half, where things rapidly go from angry to weird. Here, though, it’s all according to plan: the way the song builds itself back up and around a driving piano beat and discordant saxophone; increasingly random bits of noise splicing in here and there, but eventually coming to rest right where they should; a major-key payoff musically and emotionally.

Things get less and less coherent as Barnes builds on this deconstruction of a pop song through “Wintered Debts” and the aforementioned “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” to the point where Barnes has squandered any goodwill and murdered the record’s momentum by the time “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission” rolls around. It’s a shame, because if any song could point to what Barnes can accomplish as an avant-garde musician, it’s this one. The first half of the song is an old-school of Montreal classic in its own right, all sticky-sweet melodies and swinging hooks, yet when the expected shift comes to a blistering array of electronics and a downtempo move to horror-film strings, it flows logically rather than bashing the listener over the head with dissonance. The way Barnes slowly tones down the fuzz, segueing into the lovely wisp of a piano ballad that closes out the last two minutes, is a striking example of restraint from a man not usually blessed with that particular faculty. This is minimalism with a purpose, one that enhances the song and, with its gradual descent, provides a sort of comedown from the rest of the album as well.  “Our illumination is complete,” Barnes sings at the close, and it’s an overdramatic statement for a typically overdramatic guy, but it’s also one with a bit of hope for the future. Paralytic Stalks is most assuredly not the type of record that is going to get of Montreal a mainstream breakthrough a la The Sunlandic Twins, but for those of us who have been frustrated with his inconsistency and general unwillingness to stay in any one place, it just might be the twinkling of a light at the end of the tunnel.

of Montreal – “Malefic Dowery”

List Price: $13.98 USD
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Release date February 7, 2012.

Of Montreal – Ye, Renew the Plaintiff

By , January 18, 2012 10:00 am

Certified indie-pop nutjob Kevin Barnes and his constantly metamorphosing band of Montreal are releasing their eleventh album, Paralytic Stalks, February 7th, although a leaked copy has already found its way onto the web. It’s been a long, wild, occasionally annoying journey with Barnes and company, who rose from the ashes of the Elephant 6 record label and their peculiar brand of conceptual twee into increasingly oddball lyrical journeys and increasingly divergent musical tastes, culminating with Barnes’ role as a fictional transsexual musician named Georgie Fruit. 2010′s False Priest eased up on the weird throttle and got back to what drew me to of Montreal in the first place, namely Barnes’ penchant for melody and an appreciation of genres not normally seen in the indie pop game. Paralytic Stalks is sufficiently bizarre to qualify as another of Montreal release, but is firmly grounded in a colorful pop tradition. “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” even has a pretty sick guitar solo that rips along before an extended outro takes things to outer space and beyond.

Check out the song if you’re an of Montreal fan and ready to subject yourself to another Kevin Barnes roller-coaster ride. And check out Pitchfork’s interview with the outlandish Barnes below.

Of Montreal – “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff”

Of Montreal – False Priest

By , September 10, 2010 8:00 am

Of Montreal – False Priest

Polyvinyl 2010

Rating: 7/10

Kevin Barnes frustrates me. After his Elephant 6 also-rans Of Montreal released the archetypal power-pop album (Satanic Panic in the Attic) about seven years too late, Barnes hopped onto the electro bandwagon, had some relationship problems, and devolved further and further into his fictional alter ego, a middle-aged African-American former glam rocker named Georgie Fruit who had undergone multiple sex changes. That was a lot to type, and Of Montreal’s latter years output has been quite a lot to listen to. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was rightly applauded as the sort of quasi-operatic electro-pop epic Barnes’ talent has always hinted at, complete with twelve-minute existential crises and fanciful wordplay. But Skeletal Lamping was everything I hated about Hissing Fauna magnified, Barnes’ rampant imagination given a green light to roam by all the critical masturbation, resulting in an album that was in desperate need of an editor, or better yet, a hook of any kind. So now comes Of Montreal’s tenth album, a milestone for any band but even more so from a group that is barely recognizable from their twee Elephant 6 days.

Considering I’ve gotten less and less excited for an Of Montreal release since Sunlandic Twins, I came to False Priest with more or less an open mind and one question: will we be getting crazy transsexual Georgie Fruit with this release, the one who doesn’t know when to shut up, or the relatively more mild-mannered Kevin Barnes, who could write a pop song to stand up with the best of Mangum and Schneider? I was pleasantly surprised to find that False Priest definitely leans towards the band’s earlier days, most noticeable in their decision to return to live instruments and a more organic recording process. Opener “I Feel Ya Strutter” is almost a revelation in this regard, although it’s without doubt a stereotypically Of Montreal-ian song – the drums are crisp and bouncy and the bass bubbly with a hint of funk, all while Barnes’ less-vocodered-than-usual vocals propel a pretty straightforward power-pop delight. There’s no electro gimmick, no crazy shift in tone or style, no Barnes yelping like a castrated maniac. There’s still that faint tinge of weirdness that reminds you this isn’t the Apples in Stereo, like that spoken-word bit in the bridge and typically bizarre lyrics (“I’m in a flight simulator / and I am crashing the birth of any potential memory / hey, I’m still way erect for you”). Right from the get-go, it’s obvious this isn’t going to be another Skeletal Lamping; False Priest is composed of actual individual songs, not a thousand piece cut-and-paste experiment, and the album as a whole is better off for it.

It’s not as if Barnes is entirely abandoning his Fruit persona. Some of False Priest’s best tunes mix in a healthy amount of funky R&B, particularly the blue-eyed soul and fat bass on “Hydra Fancies” and the superb combo of “Sex Karma” and “A Girl Named Hello.” It makes Barnes’ past missteps even more tragic when you hear a song like the effortless booty-shaking of “Girl Named Hello,” where it becomes obvious that a Kevin Barnes with a specified direction and a studio environment that doesn’t encourage endless tinkering is far superior to a Kevin Barnes trying to be the Elephant 6 version of Kevin Shields. And then there’s songs like “Coquet Coquette,” which sounds like a noise-rock outtake from Sunlandic Twins (read: awesome) or the Janelle Monae collaboration on “Enemy Gene,” where Barnes and the R&B superstar combine for the smoothest, most satisfying melody on the album. These songs are good precisely because they don’t try to overstep their bounds or become something they’re not – they follow the melody Barnes sets out for them, and although it’s been a while since he’s been so straightforward, his first-rate songwriting chops rise to the surface quite clearly here.

But it wouldn’t be an Of Montreal record if Barnes didn’t decide to fuck around here or there, and False Priest is as inconsistent as most everything else in the band’s discography. Where Barnes falls, he falls hard: the primarily spoken-word verses of “Our Riotous Defects” are embarrassingly bad; “Godly Intersex” can’t decide whether it wants to be an oddball slow jam or psychedelic pop and instead fades away with nary a lasting hook; and the way Barnes ends the proceedings, with the average “Around The Way” and the completely unnecessary 7-minute wankery of “You Do Mutilate?” is practically criminal.  Don’t get me started on Barnes’ lyrics or predictably eccentric song titles – with lyrics like “you fetishize the archetype” and “when we experiment, I will put down your surrogate,” I’ve long given up trying to understand just what Barnes is getting at. Then again, isn’t that what Of Montreal have always been about? Subverting the Elephant 6 power-pop convention with his own quirkiness and defiantly unique peculiarities, Barnes has always been his own man, although once he finally made it out of the shadows of his contemporaries he got a little bit over his head with the genre/gender bending. With False Priest, Barnes finally seems to be settling into his own skin, cherry picking from his long history and patching it all back together into something that Of Montreal could ride into the new decade. Just no more concept albums, please.

Of Montreal – “Sex Karma”

List Price: $14.98 USD
New From: $4.25 In Stock
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Release date September 14, 2010.

Of Montreal – Enemy Gene

By , September 8, 2010 8:00 am

I get much more of a Sundlandic Twins vibe than a Hissing Fauna or, worse, Skeletal Lamping feeling from Of Montreal’s new record, which drops next Tuesday. This is definitely for the better – for all their critical acclaim, I couldn’t stand those latter two albums. Here’s to Kevin Barnes not trying so hard to be a African-American transsexual with a penchant for G-funk. Janelle Monae with a sweet guest spot here.

Of Montreal – “Enemy Gene”

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Let It Sway

By , August 13, 2010 8:00 am

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Let It Sway

Polyvinyl 2010

Rating: 5/10

What made Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s debut album Broom such a delight was its simple charm and beautifully unassuming melodies. Sure, it was home-recorded in a pointedly lo-fi manner and slightly derivative of bands like the Shins and early Apples in Stereo, but there was something inspiring about these three Missouri kids pulling off some truly gorgeous indie pop with a miniscule budget. It meant the songs had to be good, not fluffed up with studio tricks, and they were. The songs on Pershing were just as solid, no doubt, but a more confident SSLYBY began to lose some of that production innocence and amateur sensibility that colored their debut, seeming instead to be searching desperately for that hit single to put them over the top. Now we finally have The Indie Band Making Good – Death Cab’s Chris Walla behind the boards, a honest-to-God studio to play with, and a summer release date, the perfect time to listen to a band as breezy and lighthearted as SSLYBY generally sound. Unfortunately, what they end up with sounds more like contemporary Weezer than something you might find at the back of your local discount record store, something that was perhaps not groundbreaking but definitely yours.

Too often here SSLYBY sound like someone else’s band, or maybe Chris Walla’s wind-up power-pop toy. Of course, everything sounds good – each song here could be a potential hit single for the band or any other songwriter, and with Walla’s beefed-up production sharpening every cymbal hit and making the guitar chords more pleasant and audible than ever before, it’s a fundamentally flawless indie pop record. It’s just so unexpectedly generic; from the faux-anthem “Banned (By The Man)” to the cringe-inducing lyrics of “In Pairs” to the by the numbers designated single “Sink/Let It Sway,” nothing here leaves much of an imprint. Agreeably shiny guitars? Check. Soothing vocal harmonies? Check. Handclaps? Check.  It’s inoffensive, sometimes fuzzy, other times crisp guitar pop, tunes that are a dime a dozen on any college radio station. Those who haven’t heard the band before will find everything agreeable enough, if a little indistinctive – what was the fuss all about, anyways? Then again, only the lovely, acoustic ballad “Stuart Gets Lost Dans Le Métro” takes a page from the Broom handbook, right down to the opaque name, hushed vocals and delicate melody.

If it wasn’t for that sole offering, Let It Sway might seem the work of an entirely different band, one content to offer up bland sing-a-longs like “All Hail Dracula!” and the truly bad one-two combo of “Animalkind” and “Phantomwise,” songs that lack even a modicum of the above average catchiness that keeps the rest of the record afloat. Occasionally SSLYBY will recapture the magic solely on the strength of their not inconsiderable songwriting chops – “Everlyn” is one of the group’s best love pleas ever (the completely surprising guitar solo is a plus), and bookends “Back in the Saddle” and “Made To Last” are two of the strongest tracks on the record, particularly the latter’s wistful tone, so appropriate as the brightest days of summer begin to fade. It’s a shame, because as SSLYBY have continued to expand their sound the genre that they were a few years late to has already grown past them. James Mercer is off doing things with Danger Mouse; Ben Kweller was indulging in alt-country last go-around; most of the Elephant 6 bands are either off getting freaky with themselves (Of Montreal) or spacing out (Apples in Stereo). If the band doesn’t start catching up to their peers, they’re going to end up a lot more like their misbegotten namesake than they would probably prefer.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – “Everlyn”

List Price: $11.98 USD
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Release date August 17, 2010.

Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping

By , October 21, 2008 12:00 pm

Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping

Polyvinyl Records 2008

Rating: 4/10


Earlier this year, Of Montreal frontman and main creative force Kevin Barnes stated in an interview that Skeletal Lamping would be composed of “hundreds of short segments ranging from thirty to fifty seconds in length” and “would deviate from traditional pop song structures.” While Lamping definitely doesn’t have a hundred-plus track list, it’s fifteen titled “songs” deviate so far from standard pop conventions that it’s almost silly to analyze the album in the context of each tune, as each consists of a amalgam of radically different sounds and ideas. And while this is an expected hallmark of Barnes, a ridiculously talented musician fairly bursting with new and innovative ideas, Skeletal Lamping can’t help but collapse under the weight of it’s own pretensions.

Whereas last year’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? detailed love, break-ups, and Barnes’ fictional and incredibly odd “transformation” into his musical alter ego Georgie Fruit (a black former funk musician in his late 40s whose been through multiple sex changes and a couple stays in prison), Lamping concerns itself with Fruit, for the most part, through its entirety. Barnes has never been one for subtlety or, uh, normalcy, and so for much of Lamping we get lyrics like “I want you to be my pleasure puss / I want to know what it’s like to be inside you” on the tiresomely long “Plastis Wafers” and other typically Barnesian sentiments such as “I’m so sick of sucking the dick of this cruel, cruel city / I’ve forgotten what it takes to please a woman” on “St. Exquisite’s Confessions.” While this may be exactly what a forty-year-old transsexual might sing about, the concept is only entertaining for a short while before turning the corner from novelty to absurdity.

But sexually charged, metaphor-laden lyrics and Barnes’ unique vocal stylings are par for the course with Of Montreal. Instead, it’s the frustrating unevenness and ADD musical twitches that continually stunt Lamping’s momentum and bring the record back down to earth and (for Of Montreal, at least) mediocrity. Barnes switches from theme to theme, from instrument to instrument, from piano balladry to funky guitar grooves to bombastic synths to techno-dance madness. Barnes has never been all over the place more than he is on Skeletal Lamping, and it’s a testament to his unbridled creativity as well as his inability to edit well.

At times (like on the anthemic “An Eluardian Instance” or the skittering synth-pop of “For Our Elegant Caste”) you can’t believe what you’re hearing: the future of indie pop as seen through the lenses of a psychedelic, bisexual madman with a penchant for multi-tracked harmonies. At other times, however, you just want to slap Barnes for ruining a good thing by putting too much on at once (the long, dreary “Plastis Wafers” and the schizophrenic opener “Nonpareil of Favor” come to mind). Meticulously put together ear candy will, at times and for no obvious reason, suddenly take a 180-degree shift into a discordant, high-pitched jangle that highlights the album’s true overarching theme: inconsistency.

Of Montreal’s latest, then, fails because it lacks the very thing that made their earlier works such satisfying works of power pop: a balance between boundary-pushing experimentalism and a focus on crafting melodic tracks that connect to the listener. Skeletal Lamping is surely challenging, and at some parts Barnes’ has created some of 2008’s most transcendent moments, but as a whole the album stumbles along a myriad of half-baked ideas with the occasional “a-ha!” moment interlaced frustratingly and sporadically throughout.

Of Montreal kick out the jams

By , January 1, 2008 12:00 pm

Indie-pop band mixes equal parts Kierkegaard, Numan

(Originally published: 10/26/07)


Cloaked grim reapers. Banging gunshots resounding across the stage. Psychedelic neon spandex costumes. Death by mime.

While many people may picture the above scene and think of a particularly bizarre Cirque du Soleil production, they might be surprised to learn that these are just a few of the set pieces in your average Of Montreal concert, and some of the tamer at that.

“We design 100% of our own sets,” guitarist Bryan Poole said. “Right now, the pieces are very Gary Numan-inspired. And they take hours to set up.”

Rolling Stone magazine describes Athens, GA-based Of Montreal’s latest album, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? as “funked-up indie pop that mashes together David Bowie’s space theatrics and Prince’s sexual hedonism.” Even such a ridiculously disparate definition does not even come close to conveying the full stereophonic experience of an Of Montreal album, and it is perhaps this musical richness that has steered the band toward even greater popularity.

Arising from the Elephant-6 recording collective of such influential power-pop bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo, and the Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal languished in obscurity for almost ten years in what singer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Barnes called the “indie ghetto,” unable to break through to any greater fame than cult status.

The band, which has been recording since 1997’s Cherry Peel, owes much of its resurgence to Barnes, who writes all of the material and comes up with most of the set designs.

“Of Montreal is Kevin’s baby,” Poole said. “He usually writes all of the songs as well as the music, especially on the last couple of albums.”

Moving away from the Kinks-inspired ‘60s psychedelia of their earlier years, Of Montreal’s latest albums show a trend towards electronica and dance music awash in synths and drum beats while still retaining the absurdist lyrics and whacky vocal stylings that are Barnes’ signature.

 “The first six years or so were tough,” Poole said. “Satanic Panic in the Attic [Of Montreal’s 10th album, released in 2004] was when people really started coming out to our shows,” Poole said. “We gained a lot of high school fans and it basically spread through word-of-mouth.”

With Panic and their second-to-last album, The Sunlandic Twins, selling over 70,000 copies combined, an impressive feat for any indie band, and a recently-aired Outback Steakhouse commercial featuring their music, Of Montreal is definitely a band on the rise. But it’s their live shows that have propelled them to live legends and indie must-sees.

“We’re influenced by all sorts of things,” Poole said. “Sly Stone, the Beach Boys, Funkadelic. Kevin’s brother Dave really helps with the theatrics as well. Expect a party.”

Of Montreal’s work is not over, however. “We’re going to go into the studio after Thanksgiving,” Poole said. “The new album [tentatively titled Skeletal Lamping] is probably going to continue the trend of our last three.”

“Kevin’s already written about forty to fifty songs,” Poole continued. “You’ll probably hear a few of them at the show.”

When asked when the album might drop, Poole said, “We’re hoping for a release date next fall. We’re already a good ways through the album artwork.”

A band that, according to Poole, was “on the verge of calling it quits” a few years ago now has one of the fastest-growing fan bases in alternative rock and is swiftly building up a reputation as one of the most progressive and entertaining bands playing today. Not to mention they put on a live show that is probably the most extravagant outside of Las Vegas.

“I’m very happy with where the band is right now, and the crowds at our shows are only getting bigger,” Poole said. “I think we’re going in the right direction.”

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