Thursday, September 25, 2008

Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping...


Of Montreal - "Id Engager"

I think Kevin Barnes is losing his mind. Or, at least, one of us is… locking yourself deep into the headphones for this nerve-jolting freakified dance-blitz, as psychopathic as it is psychedelic, can start making you feel a bit wound up. Long-time fans of the Athens, GA band (led indomitably by Barnes) will only find fragments of the characteristic 60’s harmony-heavy Brit-invasion conceptual rock-n’-psyche-folk as the shooting-star-flamboyancy of Barnes delves deep into the raunchy, dirty, frilly, animalistic gnaw-n-grab and strip-n-strut depths of dance floor infinities.

…weird and winding and sometimes blushing and erotic.

Just out there.

Yeah, at times I feel lunacy creeping in…not so much palpably in the mind of Barnes, (though at some junctures – "Had the mind to call your name, internally
Through my seventh sense that's hallucinating / Anyway we're artifacts of demigodly zero logic denizens…" one starts to wonder how much of the mentally-splintered iceberg we've chipped away at…) but no, that's all well and good, It is, as I said, a creeping lunacy, more in a haunting, possessive sort of way—into my own mind, and, hopefully, yours.

The lyrics lead you into labyrinths, the singer – who is, let us not forget, often speaking through the mouth and mannerisms of a newly invented (or born?...certainly not manufactured, but maybe conjured?) character, known as Georgie Fruit, who peaked his late-40's black, bisexual sex-change-ridden self out from the swirling hurricane of the 12-minute odyssey "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," in the middle of 2007's Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer—yes, the singer, be it Barnes or Fruit, often shakes its bony ass, cock-o-the-walk-ing over the frame and turns to face you, strutting backwards and leading you further and further down winding halls, coaxing you with a sticky solitary finger waving on and on toward the glossy lips of this fowl-mouthed f-bomb dropping narrator.

You're shouting to yourself, WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE—but are somewhat arrested by the techno beats, as lights flash and strange warbles roar from invisible corners of melting rooms that have no windows—man, where am I getting all this junk, wait, what the fuck IS going on here?…beats, dance, electronica, wafts of the fun-n-fancy-free bizarre celebration born in Sunalndic Twins and further pulsated with Hissing Fauna, but used here only as a pretext for Barnes to really (and I mean really) open up the shiny golden gates of his purple-wavy-waterbed odyssey of a mind – a spinning circular room that he retreated into…a cerebral cage populated by a talented piano/acoustic guitar-playing singer/songwriter (the shy Barnes we saw develop through the late 90's and early 00's) – sitting on some brain sofa, looking noticeably upset with varying synapses of sweet sugary ballads of inverted reflections of love and community now clouded in an alluring manner by Prince-like peacock spewing sultry dirty-talk of making you come 200 times a day – simultaneously naïve (perhaps out of irony?) and well-worn (that raunchy sort of back-alley transsexual prostitute rabble) in sexual drive and prowess.

Yes, and this is still an Of Montreal album – per se. It's more like an elaborate (sometimes overly so) self-exploration…where Barnes is singing to himself in the voice of Fruit, then singing back to Fruit as Barnes – but Fruit seems to win – or at least, Barnes wants him too…where we've gone from singing about living out in the country and beetle bugs and sleeping in the poppies and going on gay parades – now we want you to be our pleasure puss, how your ass is pumping, how Barnes (or Fruit?) is a mother-fucking headliner, bitch, you don't even know it…disco and glam and bisexual wandering and slip-sliding all through this orgiastic basement romp of sometimes-frightening psychological dissections and character revelations. Man…at some point here I need to wind down and talk about these songs…if that's possible…

You see, they flow, quite seamlessly at times, into each other, the back-end just ramming right into the next synth crescendo of the next track and spiraling up and back down in some weird graceful triple-Lutz – you feel a slight change in the air, like someone down the hall opened a window or the white noise buzz of a tv in the other room suddenly snaps off, but there isn't any two-second-span of silence out of the whole 58-minute burn of back-alley smokes and loft-party prancing or vicious gossip-galling flamboyancy or straight up huff-n-puff confessionals of gang bangs and having your ass up against the kitchen sink. The ultimate critic-wedgie – where I cannot get a rhythm, cannot get comfortable, cannot dissect each separate song because they are not separate 4-minute parts but one overwhelming body.

I'm not sure if it's precisely a matter of it being Barnes at one moment and Georgie Fruit taking over the next…but the album opens with an ornate, jangly bouncer serenaded in Barnes' more-recently-characteristic sunny poetics and Prince-like squeaked-n-horny enthusiasm as he places a new-found happiness, understanding and rejuvenation on the shoulders of a lover – after he thanks her (or him), perhaps Fruit takes over as the language gets more blunt, your not 'my lover' anymore, but now he's 'calling your ass up' to 'go get compromised…' and eventually leads to a visceral and violent drawn out end of cracking his sweet love (perhaps ending the relationship) and burning away any regret in an extended guitar trounce…

Fruit's definitely strutting through the place on "Wicked Wisdom," spilling drinks and stealing kisses and throwing winks and hip thrusts this way and that, shaking his finger over strange and new synth buzzes drowning out a still familiar luminous Of Montreal-esque guitar tone…"I'm a mother fuckin headliner…" he taunts, in a falsetto (with Barnes peaking his head out for just a moment to warn us, "…process it…" yeah, it's now or never, get used to the new raunchy Barnes/Fruit hybrid asap – cuz we've got a lot of album yet to go…) "Why is it white girls don't have any ideas?" he says, and soon identifies himself as a black shemale. And we get white-nerdy-rap-Hot Chip/with grandiose and winding-lyrics ala Dan Bejar hybrids, with hit-the-floor raps like: "When we get together / We're gonna hit / What you work with" into we-must-be-missing-something-here ramblings like: "I hear the toy ball bouncing on Jihad would do their elegant conceit…"

There is no turning back from the dance floor after For Our Elegant Caste – it's a pounding pogo of hot 1:30 a.m. dizziness…and it is where we learn more of this transformation from the sweet boy who sang of bumblebees and trips through England into the sex-erific philosopher: Our bodies became what has been him so really turned off
Became a freaky permutation
Something like Voltron
Then I was wrapped in discourse with the magazine reader
The mutual conclusion was I'm not worth knowing because I'm probably dead…"

So, who knows…Barnes may be dead at this point…conceptually and ethereally… He admits later in a short-solemn buzzing sonnet that he's not sure how long he can hold on…but also not sure if it's going to "be likes this forever…"……you mean the battling personalities? Or referencing more in-the-past type stuff like pre-Satanic Panic in the Attic? What will not be like what….forever?

Who needs a drink?

If you've heard the record, it will be no news to you, but at this point I think it's important to mention that songs often go through multiple time-signature-changes, with shifting instrumentations, shifting vibes, shifting melodies…sometimes carrying on only for a minute within a track…I mean, here on Skeletal Lamping—fuck tracks, basically…there will be no boundaries.

To speak shallowly and in terms more down to earth away from this mind-bending dissection – "Gallery Piece," with its building lyrics and communal rousing and wavy siren-balladry and ever-pounding techno beat, is probably the closest thing you'll get to the gorgeous essence of (side-1) Hissing Fauna. Comparatively only to Id Engager, (another tellingly psychoanalysis reference), it's one of the more straight-forward and steady moments on the album.

Then, things get spooky – the opening bars of Women's Studies Victims quite literally sound like the soundtrack to some knife-wielding wolf-like monster looming large down shadowy hallways in haunted houses – but, as described above, it's not long before it flows into a friendlier guitar-buzzing low-key groove, with Barnes channeling this detached monotone voice, almost taunting and disgusted in its recounting of a sexual encounter. This song grows sweet and, well, cherubic towards the end – but Barnes seems to step off-stage and find his friend Georgie to say in an affected and concerned tone, "They want to destroy us…" to which a deep voice booms back, "I know!" So, Barnes suggests "It's time to penetrate their fantasy…"

But, whose fantasy? Ours, I would guess. Are those 60's-pop-loving fans of Cocquelicot or Cherry Peel living a fantasy to keep you in one particular sound, one particular style…are the new 19-year-old all-ages-crowd fans that jumped on after Sunlandic that come to these crazy costumed vaudeville Of Montreal shows to dance to a veritably innocent and sweet indie-pop paradise soundtrack living a fantasy in their (mis)perceptions?

Maybe that's why the very next song and lyric has Barnes/Fruit rolling around on a piano in some smoky after-hours cabaret lounge where he bemoans in a beautiful falsetto, "I'm so sick of sucking the dick of this cruel, cruel city…"

So here we are around track-9…the vocals are getting more splintered and the actual source of singing is starting to become indiscernible between the two – as the chorus-like march of Triphallus, To Punctuate! (though it's rambling when you read it out, the brilliant writer that Barnes is can form a melody so catchy that it works so well): "guess I should be happy for you, for your success and all that, your fame ain't got nothing for us, I supported you kid back when no one else did…I waved your flag back when no one else did…"
"I just want things to be the way they used to be when you only set a place for me…"

And, I…really have no idea how to read this…when I hear it, it makes me think of the band, of former members, of longtime members…who have watched this strange and fascinating mutation of Barnes the writer, the performer, the human being, watched the transformation right alongside the pleased-yet-bewildered fan base…

But, damn it, things won't be the way they used to be…not after this record. Even if they go back to slightly more Of Montreal-ish sweet pop ditties – they will ever-be-effected by this…, this ominous dark night that is Skeletal Lamping, some kind of weird piano-pounding, synth-string-sawing danceable deflowering.

Musically, structurally, melodically – and considering all the new strange and beautiful instrumentations implemented in its construction – Skeletal Lamping is a triumph – oh yes, way beyond the stars, past fucking Pluto. Just staggering. But there is a lot to delve through here…and it becomes quite the journey for the listener. For example – my initial reactions to these new lascivious musings was that a.) it sounded like it wasn't really Barnes, or that it was some kind of put-on by him…and b.) it sounded like he, at times, was acting as his own therapist…as Hissing Fauna and it's devastated clenching and clawing and grotesque revelations must have blown the doors wide open…

It was only after I had these initial feelings that I learned that this was very much the truth!!! – that it Skeletal was planned to be the documentation of his melding with Georgie Fruit, and, as Barnes said in a recent interview, that it would act very much like a way for him to enter his own "skull" and lamp out any and all possible creatures to trap/study/capture or kill….

As I used the word triumph above – the 7-minute "Plastis Wafers" is a disco-groove into a tribal space trance into an experimental smoky obfuscation of echoing verse and shouts as a guitar riff simply rides up and down over tinny percussion. It is a musical triumph, indeed…but maddening to try and unpack all those lyrics.

Second-to-last track Mingusings holds more deep and intriguing confessions: "I feel like an accidental species
Some mutant love child, never meant to be…" (the dual-personality-hybrid?)

"No motion dancing
Feel like we're an impossibility…" (the want to move into more darker, experimental territory like Skeletal but still keep the electronica/dance vibe of Sunlandic…hmm…)

Tried to keep the heart in the head
But I was so down on the closing night…." (the depression that inspired Hissing Fauna?)
Couldn't even fake a smile
Wanted to fire all my friends…" (like when you reverted to just solo-creation for Satanic Panic in the Attic?)

Who knows, you could spin this six ways to Sunday and come up with whatever interpretation you like—but the point is, it is going to engage you and it is going to make you uncomfortable (mostly in a good way) and it is also going to make you dance…
It's going to make you wonder…It may not be straight up mindless dance fun – but it doesn't have to be…

Alright, maybe he's not losing his mind…maybe he's gone through this and wound up with a stronger hold on sanity. But, trying to chop my way through it certainly left me feeling a bit… "cracked." What is most striking in terms of feeding my this-sounds-like-sanity-melting-music, is when one remembers that Barnes has turned Of Montreal (as a project) into very much a solo-effort when it comes to recording – so, there's no dialogue or back and forth between other collaborating musicians. It's him in a room. Singing to—and-with—himself…

Just himself…drawing apart, exploding, bringing together and putting onto song—just himself.

"I can't help it if it's true, don't wanna be your man, just wanna play with you…" is the repeated chorus that leads to the slightly abrupt ending of album closer Id Engager: …a blurry ride of a synthy melody as a distant ringing phone grows slightly louder (with Barnes answering softly in the background…hello?)…and then a churning buzz-wave that grows only to crash suddenly…then……..

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you….

(words: jeff milo)

No comments: