Posted on October 21st, 2008 (11:26 pm) by Visitor

The highly-anticipated new of Montreal LP burst onto the scene today (in a plethora of goody-bearing formats), and as the band’s profile grows, the stakes are higher than ever. After the explosion of last year’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, widely regarded as of Montreal’s post-Satanic Panic masterpiece, the expectations for SL are astronomic.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t like the album right away, not so much because of the album itself but because of what it wasn’t, because of the letdown I felt. Unlike Hissing Fauna, it doesn’t jump out and grab you. At 15 tracks, Skeletal Lamping clocks in at just under an hour, and it’s almost impossible to know when one track ends and another begins without closely watching your music player. The album is loaded with disjointed snippets that keep it from establishing a smooth groove. Kevin Barnes tests the listener’s patience with repetitive instrumental breaks, sudden starts and stops, and a few disappointing abandonments of some of the most successful tunes when they’ve just gotten started. However, many of the clips are catchy, and after a few listens, I found many of them stuck in my head, though I must admit, it's quite difficult to remember which songs they come from. Time and time again, KB himself has said that his musical evolution happens separately from his lyrics, and I’m going to look at them both more or less separately.

The experiences of Georgie Fruit, Barnes’ black transsexual alter-ego, form the centerpiece for Skeletal Lamping’s lyrical content. The new album seems a far cry from Barnes’ intensely personal and self-referential musings on the last few albums, but it’s not completely new territory for the band. In all honesty, we should have seen it coming. In Hissing Fauna’s iconic centerpiece, “The Past is A Grotesque Animal,” Barnes confesses that he fell in love with the first cute girl that he met “who could appreciate Georges Bataille,” referencing “Story of the Eye,” a novella that chronicles the theatric, limitless exploits of three young teenagers. The imprint of Story of the Eye’s explicit sexual adventures can certainly be seen in Skeletal Lamping, although this reviewer won’t speculate on the coincidental similarity between Georges and Georgie. Of course, Georgie’s experiences have to be rooted in some way in Barnes’ own curiosity, which starts to spill into Georgie’s when Mr(s?). Fruit makes his first veiled appearance at the end of Hissing Fauna. Barnes is definitely talking to himself here on this new album. Long-time fans will cite tracks like “Penelope” and “Mimi Merlot” with the type of bizarre character sketches that must have spawned Fruit. In many senses, “Penelope” is an accurate microcosm of Skeletal Lamping; its scatter-plot style indicative of the cut-and-paste aesthetic of the new album, except Barnes has decided to focus on only one of his eccentric characters and stretch out the Penelope-like format for an entire hour. Tracks like “Plastis Wafer” call to mind Sunlandic Twins, with obvious lyrical references to “Sunlandic kisses,” as well as allusions to riffs from the aforementioned album, but Barnes could no more encompass his whole career in one album than I could in this review.

Of Montreal’s musical influences have certainly changed over the years, from a Beatles-influenced psych-pop band to something that’s quite a bit more difficult to describe. On Skeletal Lamping, Barnes and his bandmates display the same ability to hook you in and get you on your feet as previous of Montreal offerings, especially on the relatively straightforward single “Id Engager,” although he’s also forged some new ground with a few soul-funk-gonna-lay-you-down-by-the-fire tracks like “For Our Elegant Caste” and “St. Exquisite’s Confessions.” The high level of funky firepower is there, but it’s hard to have a favorite track mostly because it’s difficult to keep track of which track is which (I just now had to look up the names for the last two examples). There are great bits within less listenable parts and vice versa, but the same strength that has always been behind the band is still there, and Kevin Barnes shows some impressive vocal range, adding Prince-like screams to his repertoire.

It’s obvious that of Montreal is doing something a little different, both from what they’ve done in the past and from everyone else. It’s something that will undoubtedly make some people shift uncomfortably in their seats, but of Montreal shines though with the same skills that made us fall in love with them, and the kind of hyper-evaluation seen in this review can only come out of love. We can’t fault someone for the growing process, and as time goes on, Skeletal Lamping will probably begin to grow on the public just as it did me. It’s the kind of album that will make more sense once it’s got another one after it, the kind of bookends that are necessary to plot the path of any artist. If we settle in and get accustomed to this album, the next one might be jarring, disappointing, and strange all over again. To quote Stephen Fry (talking about Oscar Wilde), “It was a breath of extraordinary fresh air in the black, morally certain world of the Victorian England.” The bottom line is that in all its confused, jittery, sweat-stained glory, Skeletal Lamping makes everything else look silly in its certainty. It talks about subjects we don’t usually think about and all around makes us squirm, but (for most of us) in the good, sweaty, sexy, of Montreal way, and that’s exactly what we’ve always wanted from Barnes and Co.

Track List

1. "Nonpareil of Favor" – 5:48
2. "Wicked Wisdom" – 5:00
3. "For Our Elegant Caste" – 2:35
4. "Touched Something's Hollow" – 1:26
5. "An Eluardian Instance" – 4:35
6. "Gallery Piece" – 3:48
7. "Women's Studies Victims" – 2:59
8. "St. Exquisite's Confessions" – 4:35
9. "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" – 3:23
10. "And I've Seen a Bloody Shadow" – 2:23
11. "Plastis Wafer" – 7:11
12. "Death Isn't a Parallel Move" – 3:01
13. "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants" – 4:52
14. "Mingusings" – 3:01
15. "Id Engager" – 3:24

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

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