Of Montreal, 'Skeletal Lamping' ★★★ ½
Of Montreal has just this week released its ninth studio album, and it once again takes them in a different direction. Kevin Barnes is the main songwriter and singer of the band, and its only consistent member, and he is a little bit different himself - which we will get to in a bit. Barnes started the band in Athens, Ga., about 12 years ago as an essentially solo project and supposedly named the band after a failed romance in Montreal.
Of Montreal became a band that helped define the Lo-Fi movement of the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s. The sound can be seen as a response to some of the overly-produced popular music that relies more on production quality than pure talent or actual emotion. If you don't like the raw sound of 4-track machines, fuzzy guitars and emotionally wrought vocals, you can blame Mariah Carey. For every one of her fake high notes substituting for actual vocal interpretation, there was a new Lo-Fi band inspired to get real again.
The Lo-Fi movement also reflected the technological advances that allowed bands to record cheaply, and distribute with nothing more than a CD burner, and now, the Internet. By distributing music directly to the audience through those wonderful interconnected series of tubes, bands bypassed big recording companies and a trend started.
However the Lo-Fi sound is but a memory on most of Of Montreal's new album, titled "Skeletal Lamping." Multi-layered vocals and instrumentation take tracks like "Nonpariel of Favor" and "An Eluardian Instance" to complex levels of harmony and excitement. Liberal use of horns, keyboards and wild sound effects make for a surprise around every corner and a joy of discovery. And Barnes' bizarre and often melancholy lyrics are paradoxically set against up-tempo and just pure fun music, making for a wild ride. It's like Kurt Cobain in Up With People - very strange and sometimes confusing, but you wouldn't want to miss it.
This album sounds so new and fresh, it's hard to believe it comes from a band with nine studio albums under its belt. Here's the secret -I think Kevin Barnes is maybe a little kooky, and seems to relay that feeling of new discovery in everything he sees.
This might account for the hard-to-rationally-explain involvement of Barnes' alter-ego in this project, a persona he calls Georgie Fruit. In an interview with Pitchfork Media, Barnes said of Georgie, "He's in his late 40s, a black man who has been through multiple sex changes. He's been a man and a woman, and then back to a man. He's been to prison a couple of times. In the '70s he was in a band called Arousal, a funk-rock band sort of like the Ohio Players. Then he went through a few different phases."
Like I said, a little kooky. But that's what they said about David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase - and you know what? They were right. But that doesn't mean it isn't really interesting to observe. Kooky people can make some of the best artists. A '70s funk band called Arousal? What the.... I love it!
You will too. Of Montreal takes creativity to the nth degree - and you don't need to have had multiple sex changes to appreciate the band's bizarro take on alternative pop music.
Andy Kline is KXLL, 100.7's Program Director. He thinks you should probably listen to his station.