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Today's word on journalism

January 13, 2009


"I get the feeling that the 24-hour news networks are like the bus in the movie 'Speed.' If they stop talking for a second, they think they'll blow up."

--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 2008 (Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin)

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Love you, 'of Montreal' -- even in 'Hissing Fauna'

Editor's note: This music review quotes explicit lyrics.

By Kelly Greenwood

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 bath.

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 long time."

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.



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