Love you, 'of Montreal' -- even
in 'Hissing Fauna'
Editor's note: This music review
quotes explicit lyrics.
December 11, 2008 | I don't believe in love at first
sight. I believe in love potential at first sight, but
not love at first sight, no matter how attractive someone
is to you.
My current "love potential at first sight" sounds
a lot like of Montreal's new album, Skeletal Lamping.
OK, it IS Skeletal Lamping. But that doesn't
guarantee I will fall in love with this album. Maybe
we'll just be friends. Frankly, it's hard to imagine
that anything could come close to how band mastermind
Kevin Barnes' previous effort, Hissing Fauna, are
you the Destroyer? affected my life. But it's only
fair to readers, myself, and of Montreal that I keep
an open mind and open ears.
It couldn't be more picturesque. I run out from the
record store with Skeletal Lamping in hand after
chatting with the clerk about how he needs to listen
to of Montreal. The leaves are neon and falling, and
the day etches a goldenrod hue in my mind. I anxiously
tear the plastic off the album (strangely satisfying)
and delve through the maze that is the album casing.
Nina Barnes and David Barnes, Kevin's wife and brother,
respectively, have outdone themselves with the album
art. The art is ripe with psychedelic, vivid, exquisitely
detailed, swarming semi-erotic drawings. It's readily
apparent that their mission was to match the album's
erratic complex musical journey with the mystical art,
as has been done with most of the of Montreal albums.
I'm not disappointed, though the cryptic packaging is
a bit of a hindrance. I eventually uncover the actual
CD, and pop it into my '94 Geo Prism's CD player.
I drive to my favorite coffee place, and the album
begins to play. The first song, Nonpareil of Favor
starts out with a jovial tickling of the harpsichord
(or a keyboard sound-alike), which is met with a steady
electro-synth-poppy beat, a signature of the band. Ahh.
It makes a smile stretch across my face until the words
of the second track, Wicked Wisdom, crash into
my ears. "I'm a mother-fucking headline, oh bitch, you
don't even know it!" Uh… what?
This isn't the Kevin Barnes I know and love. Well,
who knows -- maybe it is. With his non-gay cross-dressing
and transsexual black man alias (named Georgie Fruit),
the man is hard to pin down. The rest of the album takes
me on a musical journey. No, no, that's cliché and all
wrong. It takes me on an overtly sexual romp amidst
flowers with fangs and frou frou and unspeakable sexual
fetishes. It's cryptic, and the word "quirky" doesn't
do it justice at all. And it's sex, sex, sex. However,
there are some tracks that are instantly palatable gems.
But there are others, much to my own dismay, that make
me shudder aloud.
The simple piano lament, Touched Something's Hollow,
is a comfort blanket that tells me Barnes hasn't betrayed
me. It's familiar, it's calm, with poignant lyrics.
It immediately leads into another heart warmer, An
Eluardian Instance, a poppy, upbeat lilt with plenty
of the band's definitive "la-la-la-la-la's," tight harmonies,
and introspective lyrics. Ahhh, yes. It's like a warm
Another dazzler is Gallery Piece, where Barnes
showcases his somewhat disturbing fantasies and fixations
with danceable, prance-able beats and guitar riffs.
"I want to hurt your pride, I want to slap your face,
I want to paint your nails," he sings. "I want to squeeze
your thighs, I want to kiss your eyes and corrupt your
dreams," he reveals. I giggle at it, as I have never
heard anything like this before. I admit, I love everything
about the song. It's hilarious and strangely endearing.
In St. Exquisite's Confessions, Barnes emerges
as Georgie Fruit, singing, "I've got what it takes to
please a woman, but that's all gonna change." Yep, that's
Georgie the transsexual, all right. The song is sexual
and Prince-sounding, but has a pathos element to it
- I feel bad for Georgie and his plight. But I move
on -- he'll be OK.
The last track (but not least), Id Engager,
the first single from Skeletal, punctuates the album
well with really catchy, unmistakably of Montreal synth
rhythms and melodic richness. It's still quite sexual,
but oh-so catchy. Even though it feels tacked-on at
the end of the album, it is still loveable and fluffy.
There are more radiant sounds in the album that I
love, and there are some that are ultimately offensive
and cringe-worthy. Sorry, Kevin. If a little sex goes
a long way, some songs on this album will "love you
But though I'm not a fan of the sex that's hitting
me over the head, I think I at least understand why
it's there. I first thought the blatantly sexual lyrics
were because Barnes couldn't think of anything better
to write. No. No, he is better than that and he knows
better. Since of Montreal has become much more well-known
over the past few years, I wonder if he attempted to
not have mass-appeal to see who his real fans were.
And perhaps to convey to these fans that the band hadn't
sold out even though they let Outback Steakhouse use
(and change!) Wraith Pinned to the Mist And Other
Games for a commercial. If that's the case, I respect
him all the more. Or maybe he just wanted to shock people
and be more outrageous and flamboyant than a David Bowie-Prince
love child. And that's OK.
Maybe it's because I've been acquainted with the more
innocent, deep of Montreal that I feel this album is
somewhat emotionally detached and sometimes borders
on alienating. In Hissing Fauna, are you the Destroyer
Barnes managed to deeply weave painfully honest experiences
with jovial musical and lyrical eccentricity, which
could fool the average listener into thinking it was
a strictly jovial pop album. I don't see that kind of
depth with Skeletal Lamping, but sometimes a
departure is good now and then. And who knows -- my
devotion to of Montreal will probably (eventually) cause
me to fall in love with the album by default. Like how
your mate farts in their sleep and leaves the ketchup
out, but you love them anyway. Yes, I could fall in
love -- it just won't be at first sight.