Last year my brother and I attended what would be my fifteenth Of Montreal live show and sadly, probably my last. Walking into a large warehouse venue, the crowd resembled much more of a rave scene then a setting fit for a band that I had consider one of the more important bands of the late 90's and 2000's. My general snark kicking in, I bet my brother that if he asked twenty people of his choice, what Of Montreal's first album is called, they wouldn't be able to provide the correct answer.
He accepted and began asking around. Smartly he targeted people who wore Of Montreal shirts or appeared to be fans of the band. He was met with the following answers: Hissing Fauna (16), Sunlandic Twins (3), Satanic Panic In The Attic (1). This is neither a fault of the band or their fans, Hissing Fauna was a breakout record for the band exposing themselves to a huge crowd of new listeners.
The problem is, Of Montreal, with their new fan base, has abandoned those who have been obsessing over their records since 1997. Their sound has evolved twice and their earlier material has been completely ignored at the last seven live shows I've attended. Of Montreal should be considered in three movements. One would think you should categorize these movements by line-up changes (they've lost, added, re-added several members throughout the years) or by label changes (Bar/None to Kindercore to Polyvinyl) but I think there are three very distinct movements independent of these obvious changes.
The first movement includes their debut LP, Cherry Peel (1997) to Aldhils Arboretum (2002). During this period they released five studio albums. Full disclosure, this is my favorite movement. These five albums are stripped to the band basics concerning instruments and finds frontman Kevin Barnes exploring heartbreak, abstract storytelling, and displaying humorous wit in the league of Tom Waits and Stephin Merritt. The band name Of Montreal comes from Barnes ending a relationship with a girl from Montreal. The early albums are thematically driven by heartbreak, exploration of sexuality, and employing clever metaphors to re-imagine dried up artistic subject matter. Over the five albums, the band explored new sounds and toyed with abstraction without ever losing their unique vision that made them auteurs of the indie music world.
The second movement includes Satanic Panic In The Attic, Sunlandic Twins, and Hissing Fauna.
Satanic has moments of the old sound but everything is shifted towards a dance feel. I consider this movement the "dance/electronic era". Sunlandic Twins and Hissing Fauna are heavily driven by synthesizers and Hissing Fauna especially goes for the upbeat, feel good, dance jugular. I love all three of these records and Satanic Panic is up there in my top three of their entire discography. The problem I have with this movement is that it lead to the current Of Montreal movement. I was fine with Of Montreal exploring their dance/electronic side and evolving album to album, but I always assumed they would return to their roots since Cherry Peel is their most emotional, artistic, and important record created to date.
Instead the band became the Kevin Barnes show. Barnes had always been the primary songwriter and voice of the band throughout all the lineup changes, but it always felt like Of Montreal was a band on equal footing especially in the first movement mentioned above. On Skeletal Lamping and False Priest, Barnes takes the spotlight and narrows it to his face alone. He creates a character names Georgie Fruit (who is "created" on Hissing Fauna) and basically kills off sexual metaphor. The melodies morphed from electronic dance to cheesy disco and the lyrics became filled with surface level exploration of sex and love and not much more. Everything about False Priest feels incredibly lazy and embarrassed me as a strong support of the band. With this new movement I found myself becoming cautious when discussing Of Montreal. On one hand I consider them one of the best bands of the last two decades and on the other hand they have completely lost my trust with their newer material. When I proclaim my love for Of Montreal, instantly (as displayed at the last Of Montreal show I attended) people think I'm talking about Hissing Fauna to False Priest.
What I'm offering up is a fifteen track early (first movement) Of Montreal playlist. If you've heard every track from the complete Of Montreal discography then this mix is probably not for you. I'm asking that regardless if you have made up your mind about Of Montreal, good or bad, but haven't explored their collection in full, please listen to the playlist. It's impossible to ignore your initial attachment or dislike for a band, so you may enjoy or dislike their second and third movements because that's how you have always known Of Montreal. What's important is to find out what the band started off as and how they treated the music on their first five albums that are generally ignored by the majority of their fan-base. I worked extremely hard on this mix because I want it to be a perfect representation of what made me initially fall in love with Of Montreal. Enjoy.
Note: Spotify did not have their second album, The Bedside Drama, so I added three of their early four track recordings that were later released in 2001.