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Baker's Dozen

Bon Appétit: James Acaster's Favourite Albums
Emma Garland , February 9th, 2022 10:36

From the tiny emo scene of noughties Kettering to a love of underground hip-hop and the undying appeal of a cult classic, comedian James Acaster takes Emma Garland through the albums that have defined his life


of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Every time I listen to this from start to finish I think it's amazing, which is funny because I’m not sure if they’re a band I like outside of this album. My friends growing up were into of Montreal, but they sounded like a lot of indie bands at the time so I didn't really see the point in getting into them as well as everyone else. I liked Modest Mouse and The Shins and I was like, ‘I don’t really need of Montreal, they don’t really sound like they're bringing anything new to the table’. Then this album was such a departure. Suddenly there was loads of electronic instrumentation, they were being a bit weirder with what they were doing, really leaning into bringing in different genres, and it’s really eccentric and idiosyncratic all the way through. All the vocals are fucking great – Kevin Barnes does loads of really cool harmonies all the way through and all these vocal acrobatics, but almost quite sarcastically sometimes. Every song could have been a single, it's so infectious.

I ended up getting into it because of a Daytrotter Session – I don’t know if they’re still going, but I signed up to that for a period of time and Kevin Barnes did really great acoustic versions of ‘Suffer For Fashion’ and ‘Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider’, and I thought ‘Ok, maybe I do like this of Montreal band’. So I looked up the album and it was completely different to this acoustic thing, but that was exciting.

It came out around the same time as the big LCD Soundsystem album, and everyone was very excited about that. I liked some of the songs on that album, but didn't fully understand – and I still don't fully understand – why it’s as exciting. I like ‘Dance Yrself Clean’, but I would like it if all the songs were as amazing as that. So when people were into that, I was listening to this of Montreal album and feeling way more excited by it. I don't know if of Montreal were inspired by them, they might have been, but I just felt like of Montreal were doing the same things that LCD Soundsystem were doing but better. I felt like the melodies are more consistently catchy throughout the whole album. I thought the singing was better. The sarcasm and the humour was done better. I also felt like they sounded more unique. So that was my relationship with it, in a way – wondering why no one was as excited about this as LCD Soundsystem.

My relationship has only ever been with this album, but I think it’s quite an easy album to turn anyone who’s into pop music onto because it does have so much going on all the way through. Each song explores poppiness in a different way. The only song that shows its age a bit is ‘Chemicals’, just because of the way the hooks are and the structure of the song – you know you’re listening to an indie band from the early 2000s. It's still a good song and I like it in the context of the tracklist, but I think it’s clearly like… they had to write a single.

The final track is my favourite. It’s a very simple song, but I like the layered vocal harmonies at the end and whatever the time signature is. It’s a bit of a weird one and I’m a sucker for that sort of stuff when it’s used in a really poppy way. I’ve always responded well to that. I remember when I first discovered being able to play the drums in different time signatures when I was a teenager, music looked completely different all of a sudden. There were more possibilities. And so I still get quite into it when people do a song in 7/4 and it’s still catchy. I really like the feel of something not doing what you expect, and not resolving when you think it’s going to. I like that they end the album on a note that both feels like everything’s resolved – it’s a really happy sounding song and the melody is really nice – but it’s not a very conventional song either and it kind of fades away. It feels like a natural end, but it’s a bit disconcerting at the same time.

I remember doing a gig once in Toronto, and there was a guy in the front with a really wordy tattoo on his arm and I said, ‘What is that?’ And he said it's from this of Montreal song, and it was one of the songs on this album – ‘The Past is a Grotesque Animal’, which is 12 minutes long. I think that show started with a rant about me not getting the people that I want to turn up at my gigs turning up at my gigs, and when he said that I was like, okay, now I’ve got my audience. This is who I want to come to see me: people who choose the longest of Montreal song and have it tattooed on their arm.