Of Montreal, Chord, Fall 2008
Yes, Of Montreal is a pop band, but it's one that's innovative as hell. Whether it's the sound, the lyrics, or even the live performances, frontman—or maybe more appropriately "conductor"—Kevin Barnes strives to find new ways to combine, remix, and interpret styles and influences to keep of Montreal fresh and evolving. While of Montreal's last album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, was a collection of upbeat pop songs designed to pull Barnes out of a gloomy funk, the inspiration for the new album, Skeletal Lamping, lacks a single narrative.
And that's how Barnes wanted it.
"Everything is very fractured and fragmented and I’m constantly contradicting myself in my thoughts and my concept of the world," he reflects. "I wanted to just make a record that represented that state of being. It’s important for you to feel totally free to contradict yourself and just be whoever you happen to be at the moment."
In a word, the album is best described as human. A multifaceted approach lends each song its own unpredictable personality in composition, style, and lyrics. "Nonpareil of Favor" starts off as a peppy indie pop song and ends in a lyricless drone, far from where the track began. "Touching Something's Hollow" is a wistful interlude with vocals and piano that explodes into "An Eluardian Instance," a texturally varied track about young love. The album is also not shy about sexuality, exploring everything from trans-gender relationships to prostitution.
A variety of musical styles pop out on this album, but Barnes specifically aimed to harness the bravado and energy of 70s funk. "You can draw parallels to all sorts of artists but I’m definitely pulling a lot from Prince, Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield and people like that. And I’m also trying to incorporate more dissonance and tension, which is not really something you find in funk music."
But there is more to Skeletal Lamping than just fifteen tracks about kinky sex and wayward lovers. Barnes and the band felt they wanted to do something new with this release, something beyond a jewel case and booklet or a digipack. Taking advantage of the talented people in his life, Barnes teamed up with his brother, David (who has designed the band's album covers since 1997), and wife, Nina (who has done much of the band's merch), to create a set of seven objects that accompany the album. From a giant foldout monster poster with the CD to a Chinese lantern with a digital download, fans get a piece of art—and a reason to invest in the album even if they download it for free through other means.
"All the items we created we wanted to be integrated into people’s lifestyles. So it’s always gonna be an inspiring piece or a provocative piece or conversation piece, or something that has value just like any art piece does. The Chinese lantern and the wall decals—basically if you bought everything you could redesign your room."
For the upcoming tour, the band has replaced the electronic drum machine with a dedicated drummer who will play live on all tracks. Barnes hopes the addition will allow the band more freedom to improvise during the shows. of Montreal also plans a stage show that should impress even the most loyal fans accustomed to the band's theatrical style of glitter, glitz, and sensory overload. Using a separate room on wheels, the band will create a second environment on stage that can be turned around, re-staged, and then turned back to face the audience.
"What we’d love to do is transform each venue and create an other-world environment that you are not expecting at all," says Barnes.
Through their multifaceted approach to distribution and performance, of Montreal hopes to create new experiences for their fans that they hope will not only engage fans, but inspire them to participate and become a part of something larger. For Barnes, it's not just about the music, it's also about the spirit.
"I want the audience to feel like they’re part of the community, the sort of art collective that Of Montreal is," he says. "I really hope that people will dress up and feel like they’re part of the performance as well."