Review: Of Montreal

With them having been mentioned in last month’s Plan B magazine (something else that you need… maybe I’ll talk about them in a later post. Or maybe I should assume any reader clever enough to be here would already know they need Plan B. Being a non-Brit is no excuse), this might seem a somewhat redundant post. But it most certainly isn’t: if anything, Of Montreal‘s appearance therein makes this all the more relevant.

oOf Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?You see, while the article does tell us that Of Montreal‘s most recent album, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, is “addictive… the sound of panic, loneliness and claustrophobia, the sound of being trapped in your own head, unable to relate”, yet “it’s delightfully funny in places too”, and “doesn’t so much beg for your attention as wrestle it to the ground, pin it down with its deceptively wiry arms and plant a big black kiss on its forehead” – all well deserved comments – it also makes some wonderfully undeserved comments regarding Of Montreal‘s earlier output. Specifically: “I had previously ranked [Of Montreal] alongside Paris Hilton and Coke Zero in terms of their usefulness to mankind. [Their] last album cover (2005’s The Sunlandic Twins) actually made me gag” – in fact, the writer (Joe Stannard) even tells us that “Kevin Barnes [Of Montreal frontman]… never meant shit to me. I never set much stock in all that 21st Century US indie bullshit, all those bands hanging on the coattails of Neutral Milk Hotel”.

Now, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, true. And Stannard does make it clear that this is his opinion and nobody else’s. Nevertheless, I do feel a need to defend Of Montreal from his statements, because they are sick and wrong.

*ahem*

That is to say, I’m worried his words might put off Plan B readers from trying out Of Montreal‘s back-catalogue, and this would be a travesty. Their earlier works include some real things of beauty, not least the album Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse. This wonderful album marks the closing days of the band’s more free work, interspersing songs with poetry and prose tales, the album flits from style to style, managing that rare feat of never feeling tired, no matter how many times you listen to it.

This is an album which opens with a jaunty song, Good Morning, Mr. Edmington, sung by a kidnapper to his hostages, who wants to let them go if they would only give him an honest job; it progresses to a prose/poetry piece chronicling the curious happenings at a crime-scene, The Events Leading Up to the Collapse of Detective Dulllight, in which the three policemen investigating end up variously being murdered, writing free-verse poetry about gauze while in prison, and dissolving into the froth atop a child’s bedtime cocoa.

It is these quirky topics which lead writers like Stannard to condemn Of Montreal‘s earlier works as pointless, quirky pieces, unworthy of recognition. And indeed, if you’re looking for ‘serious’ music then you might wish to stick with their most recent album. But a world with only serious music – a rockist world? – would be terribly dull, and it is exactly this that bands like Of Montreal do their best to prevent. In fact, this is something Stannard seems partially aware of; he acknowledges that their most recent album, while talking from the heart about depression, manages to have its moments of hilarity, delighting in wordplay just as all Of Montreal‘s tracks do. His main criticism of their earlier output is that it lacks the poignancy and meaning of this, extremely personal work – and in doing so shuns the complexity of their earlier tracks dealing with impossible yearning: for youthful innocence – Let’s Do Everything for the First Time Forever, Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games); for freedom from the modern world – City Bird, Forecast Fascist Future.

In couching their worries and sadness in gentle, upbeat songs Of Montreal are able to sneak in under the radar: where a more earnest musician might drone on at us about their suffering, exhausting us with their perpetual complaining, Of Montreal‘s more pleasant sounds leave the listener with a complexity of emotion they would otherwise lack, and so leaves us more open to their complaints. They understand, as we do, that they could not live as children all of their lives, that they could not manage without the structures of modern living, but they can still feel sad for what has passed – and through their complex and witty music we are able to feel these self-same sensations, and perhaps reflect on our own views of the world.

And for all of that, Of Montreal are essential.

Manic %

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