Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping
Zach Hart Tuesday, October 21, 2008
“Personality is the glitter that sends your little gleam across the footlights and the orchestra pit into that big black space where the audience is.” –Mae West
Never thought I would use a Mae West quote in an Of Montreal review, but it works. In the current indie music world of fleeting song subjects like teaching someone’s boyfriend how to dance, it’s the strong personalities and originality of songwriting that will ultimately not only cross that black space and reach the audience…but will remain with them for years to come. In fact, reaching an audience today is not the problem. With digital downloads and six albums being reviewed everyday on Pitchfork, there is a mess of similar albums and headaches have been formed trying to separate the worth wild from the drag to trash and delete LP’s.
Kevin Barns has taken his band through transformation after transformation, each one full of lasting personality. For casual fans, I always like to describe Of Montreal’s sound in phases. You have the minimal phase consisting of what I think is their best work (Cherry Peel, Bedside Drama, and Gay Parade). Then they expanded into a sort of experimental sound, still being minimal in their recording approach, nothing seemed that polished, but it still worked (Coquelicot Asleep and Aldhils Arboretum). Then Satanic Panic in the Attic changed everything. They brought in a synth to compliment Helium’s blazing guitars and crisp sound recording brought forth a fan base. I consider this “synth-disco” phase to include Satanic, Sunlandic Twins, and Hissing Fauna. Skeletal Lamping continues in this phase but almost acts as a homage to the scattered beauty of Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies. One of my first complaints when hearing the album was expecting a new phase to be created with the LP, rather I got an extension of Fauna and Coquelicot. After a few more spins, I realized that the hybrid of these two sounds really work…allow me to explain.
“Nonparell of Favor” summarizes my theory perfectly. We first hear a harpsichord play a riff that signals the sound of Coquelicot and then a synth/bass line interrupts this and moves on to a Fauna line. If you listen to the album, it feels like these two competing sounds fight for dominance throughout…in the end, they both bow, shake hands, and realize they make better teammates then enemies.
Barnes is on top of his game, his voice in total control through the first three tracks. Then “Touched Something’s Hollow” comes on and we’re thrown for a twist. A single piano and Barnes (I imagine a tear in his eye) singing: “why am I so damaged, girl?” The first time I heard this track my mind snapped back to the Cherry Peel track “Montréal”. I often have to defend Of Montreal for being a band that can write something beautiful along with the disco pop stuff…and this track makes another case for my argument.
Now, I’ve been a fan of Of Montreal for years and years…and I don’t know who this Georgie Fruit is, but I’m not a fan of his lyrics. The beauty of Barnes as Barnes lyrics was the fact that they dripped with hot sexual metaphors and were pornographic without being up front about it. Lamping does not understand what a metaphor is, unfortunately. Lines like: “I took her standing, ass against the sink” or “I live to make you call my name” show the tactful differences between “Fruit” and Barnes.
The album starts bright but loses it’s way after gallery piece, giving us a strong track and then weak one…alternating for the last half of the album. This would have been one hell of a six track EP, but the sheer volume of fifteen upfront sexual fantasies of “Fruit” is somewhat exhausting.
Look, I’ve been thinking about how to review this album for quite sometime and here is what I’ve come up with. No, it’s not as good as Fauna. Yes, it has a few tracks that are bizarre and don’t really work. Yes, Fruit should be put back in the Of Montreal closet. In the end, you SHOULD give this album a chance. There are some damn good songs. Gallery Piece and Misgusings are two tracks that I immediately induct into the Of Montreal track hall of fame. Enjoy the album, dance to it, but don’t take it too serious….that’s not what this band is about. Instead of bashing this album for not expanding on their ever evolving phases, I’ll wait for the next album to do so, and in the meantime I will appreciate another delightfully inappropriate hit of sound from Of Montreal to my ears.