Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping

Of Montreal
Skeletal Lamping

The wide appeal of last year’s magnificent, Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer?, an open exposé on heartbreak, despair, depression and heartache, garnered Of Montreal a lot of attention. Not only had the band been making music for ten years but they had already released multiple fantastic albums. But it was last year’s hit success that really shined the light on Kevin Barnes and company’s sparkling songwriting. A year later, things are much different for Barnes and the band’s new album, Skeletal Lamping, arrives encompassing many of the tremendous aspects that made last year’s effort such a sensation.

Take album closer, “Id Engager.” Featuring funky guitars and a pumping bass line, Barnes spouts playful lines of joyful nights out on the dance floor. A Freudian-influenced title for sure, the song recalls past hits like “The Party’s Crashing Us” and Barnes sounds ever happy as he sings, “Can’t help it if its true, don’t wanna be your man, just wanna play with you.” And on the opposite side, the album begins with a propelling hit in “Nonpareil of Favor.” Where Hissing Fauna… was an album encircled around Barnes fractured life, Skeletal Lamping finds him exuberant and reborn. Everything begins with a harpsichord melody that soon adds thumping beats, a dissonant progression and Barnes’ unique vocals. This rapidly changes to a down-tempo funky groove which then scatters into a trashing array of pounding drums, guitars and keyboards. It’s a vision of finding someone that you never thought would return but when they did, it made everything right.

To be succinct, the two aforementioned songs are what Skeletal Lamping is all about: a raucous collection of sounds that wouldn’t work anywhere else but on an Of Montreal album. The lyrics are also a stark difference from last year’s direct words. That was an album filled with resentful and bitter lyrics that were paired with vibrantly energetic and frenetic music; here Barnes is literally all over the place and his cryptic storytelling makes for an eccentric album. And although each song may shift styles five or six times, as a whole, it’s a tightly constructed and smartly shaped listen.

Georgie Fruit was mentioned on last year’s release on “Labyrinthian Pomp” and he is everywhere on this album. According to Barnes, Fruit is a man in his late forties, who has been through various sex changes, lived a rough life in spite of and because of this and has been in prison a few times. This alter-ego is Barnes’ Ziggy Stardust and it’s this character that shapes a lot of the songs into becoming feral tales of sex, love and relationships.

One way or another, Of Montreal is channeling countless musical giants all over this album. Whether it’s the Prince-funk on “Wicked Wisdom,” complete with its grooving bass and yelping vocals or the Broken Social Scene horn-infested wonder that is “An Eluardian Instance,” the band chose great ones to evoke. Starting with a conga beat, “For Our Elegant Caste” quickly turns into a flourishing assortment of synthesizers, infectious backing vocals and more of those feet-tapping drums.

As unconventional as this sounds, it makes for a cohesive effort. The opening bluesy piano of “And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow” sounds like something out of The Rolling Stones book and the organ and layered vocals on “Touched Something’s Hollow” sound eerily similar to Abbey Road-era Beatles — or did The Beatles get that from The Beach Boys? — either way, Of Montreal never shies away from their influences.

Studying the artwork, it definitely looks like Barnes resolved his issues and problems. The album’s title—which references a torturous hunting technique — is as downtrodden as ever but one thing is for sure, this is a band that absolutely knows what they are doing. Through all of its “out there” tendencies, Skeletal Lamping is an equal triumph to its predecessor for all of the right reasons: it’s brilliantly engineered, inquisitively creative, powerfully moving and most of all, exceptionally mesmerizing.