Monday, January 22nd, 2007
The Past is a Grotesque Animal
It was a few years ago in the midst of an Elephant 6 kick (haven’t had one of THOSE in a while…) that I first picked up a copy of Of Montreal’s Aldhis Arboretum. Long story short? Didn’t like it. As I recall, I found Kevin Barnes’ sense of whimsy to dwell a little too far into the land of fey for my tastes so I shunted it to the discard pile and moved on with my life.
Fast forward to SxSW last March and my catching Of Montreal at Emo’s – I had heard that Of Montreal had gone through some stylistic shifts in the intervening years but I wasn’t really expecting the glam-tacular glitter explosion that I witnessed. Someone had discovered disco and funk and was wearing it well (though not literally – Barnes came onstage in a wedding dress and was stripped almost to his skivvies by his bandmates before the show began). I was also struck by how huge and rabid an audience they had – mostly younger, oh so enthusiastic and probably ready to kill if Barnes so commanded. Thankfully, the only thing he wanted the to do was dance.
And now, we come to their new album, the excessively-titled Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, out tomorrow. It confirms what I thought in Austin, and that’s that Of Montreal sound a hell of a lot more interesting now that Barnes has embraced his inner retro-futurenaut persona. The dense, synth-heavy production just fits right and Barnes’ psychedelia looks and sounds a lot better with an injection of funk and soul and by the light of a disco ball. His indie-pop instincts and imagination are still intact but there’s a darker, more personal bent to the lyrics – bassist Bryan Poole talks about Barnes’ headspace when writing the album to AZCentral.com. But when you’ve got lines like, “Come on mood shift, shift back to good again” and “chemicals, don’t mess me up this time”, or “I spent the winter on the verge of a total breakdown while living in Norway” coming from a guy who once wrote a song called “Tim I Wish You Were Born A Girl”, you know someone’s got some things to work out.
And it’s on the epic-length “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal” that Barnes lets some of that out. Built on a sinister, Joy Division-ish rhythm track and with discordant guitar ands ynth squalls in the background, it features Barnes venting about something or someone with uncharacteristic yet wholly enjoyable venom. It just builds and builds over 12 minutes, seeking a release that never comes – some might find it exhausting but I find it invigorating and while Hissing Fauna won’t turn Of Montreal into my new favourite band – they can still have rather an adverse influence on my blood sugar levels – it certainly makes them more interesting to me. Of Montreal are at the Opera House on March 13.
NOW previews two of the bands on the bill at the Horseshoe this Tuesday night, Montreal’s Young Galaxy and Brooklyn’s Last Town Chorus (whom I talked about in December). NPR is streaming a Last Town Chorus show in Philadelphia from last week while Chart talks to Young Galaxy about leaving their Stars behind. Last Town Chorus are on 10:20, Young Galaxy at 11:10 and there is no cover.
The Brooklyn Paper and Red & Black talk to Camera Obscura’s Carey Lander about their upcoming North American tour which brings them to the Opera House on January 31. They’re also gearing up to take on America in their blog – could this band be any cuter?
Here’s one for all fans of smoky Gallic pop and who like to play waaaay in advance – Keren Ann will be in town at the Rivoli on June 6 in support of her new self-titled album, due out May 8.