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Album review: Of Montreal

October 21, 2008 |  5:08 pm

Ofmontreal_2 With Of Montreal's last album, "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?" Kevin Barnes and his collective based in Athens, Ga., managed to control the frontman's psychological, psychedelic maelstrom with enough structural edges. Unfortunately,  his ninth album, a continuation on ‘60s-style pop crossbred with freak R&B and battered-basement disco, doesn’t fare as well. “Skeletal Lamping” could’ve used a tougher editor’s eye.

There are 1,000 ideas in 15 songs, and all of them are appealing. But most get short shrift in this manic adventure that bogs down too many songs with exhaustive tonal changes and an overreliance on Barnes’ layered falsetto vocals. “NonPareil of Favor” taxes with several shifts, including a graceless, pounding interlude on guitar and drums.

When the album sits still for long enough, the gems of Barnes’ evolved, party-wise, identity- and gender-hopping persona shine through. In “Beware Our Nubile Miscreants,” he warns a friend not to get involved with a guy who has “serious predatory domination issues ... he’s the sort of guy who will leave you in a K-hole to play ‘Halo’ in the other room.”

In some songs, Barnes amps the persona to a point where it’s outside of himself. It’s strutting work that only the sexual superego of Georgie Fruit, a “black she-male,” can handle. In “For Our Elegant Caste,” Barnes sings in an electrifying, near-alien upper register,“We can do it soft-core if you want, but you should know I go both ways.”

There are many moments when the crush of ideas works right. “Touched Something’s Hollow” is a weary-soul piano ballad that opens up spectacularly to the redeeming horns of “An Eluardian Instance,” one of Barnes’ best in his substantial oeuvre of emotionally euphoric songs.

For all of “Skeletal Lamping”’s twists, layers and moods, it should play well in concert, where Fruit/Barnes and a whole host of sparkle-suited friends lead a festival of delicious, sensory overload. All the more to work it with on stage.

--Margaret Wappler

Of Montreal
"Skeletal Lamping"  (Polyvinyl)
Two and a half stars

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