Of Montreal

Skeletal Lamping

All gallery photos courtesy of Edd Westmacott and www.Shot2Bits.net.

When you push the innards out of the Skeletal Lamping CD, and slowly unfurl the artwork provided (as always) by David Barnes it feels like you could tumble into some psychedelic Pit Of Sarlacc. Card sepals and petals unfold into a poster of a post lapserian, grown over Garden of Eden. It’s as if the characters that inhabit Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes’ imagination are running unclothed amongst the garish foliage and sinister looking, fanged jaw bones, hiding amongst the brambles. Here nature is red in tooth, claw and thorn, providing no shelter for the naked humans. Some of them ashamed, some hysterical, some rapturous – one man points in fear at the sky. The only people who look at home in this lost paradise are an embracing female couple who stare outwards beatifically while cradling their already full grown daughter. Is this the punch line to Michel Houellebecq’s near future novel Atomized? It would be easy to suggest that the cataclysmic-looking artwork’s unfolding mirrors the unravelling of the psyche of Kevin Barnes. I don’t know. I’d hazard that Barnes doesn’t fully know either. What I do know though is that the man over the last ten years has become some kind of genius.

He formed the group a decade ago in Athens, Georgia after a doomed Canadian romantic dalliance – although there is some suggestion that the latter part of that sentence should be in double quotes. Since then he’s been prolific, siring nearly as many compilations as studio albums proper. Although always Catholic in his tastes, Barnes’ ‘breakthrough’ album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? continued the move away from the sometimes cloyingly twee indie pop that characterized early albums. Recorded partially in Norway after some kind of post break-up nervous breakdown and the use of allegedly misprescribed anti-depressants, the album was a bravura and breathlessly hydraulic ride through a bi-polar landscape in which the listener was pushed and pulled by depression and mania, buffeted by pockets of excess serotonin before slumping exhausted again. Taking in Americanized Afrobeat, Latin, coked-up electro funk as well as the (slightly) more predictable music hall numbers, disco and indie; it was all built around the neo-Krautrock groove of ‘The Past Is A Grotesque Animal’ which dealt with Barnes’ transformation into his alter-ego Georgie Fruit, a black transsexual.

Anyone with any sense will be pleased to know that Skeletal Lamping is like an over-sexed companion piece to Hissing Fauna . . . and suits being listened to in conjunction with it. Despite Barnes’ recent work with Andrew VanWyngarden there isn’t really much in the way of a comparison to be made with MGMT; the musical arrangements are too byzantine and reward constant relistens well. His Prince infatuation comes to the forefront even more on tracks like the effete yet priapic ‘St. Exquisite’s Confessions’. His electric blue eyed soul makes a mockery of Hot Chip’s efforts to get down with the pint sized prodigy. Trying to pin songs like ‘Nonpareil of Wisdom’ down feels like one of those gun fights from a film noir set in a hall of mirrors that always ends in the wrong person getting shot or the baddie getting away. A staccato, synthetic harpsichord picks out a jaunty melody for some chorus-line indie performed by Camper Van Beethoven and The Sparks and drifts through 70s classic rock and then finally some queasy and unsettling choral psychedelia, that suggests TV On The Radio experienced through the broken mirror of Brian Wilson’s psyche. ‘An Eluardian Instance’ calls to mind Broken Social Scene and Sufjan Stevens. This kind of overview isn’t as pointless as it might seem: Skeletal Lamping feels like about 40 songs woven into one massive whole.

The word play on the album is as impressive as you’d expect if quite bewildering. This is perhaps not surprising as the album is a free associative and violent peer inside Barnes’ own cranium. (Lamping is a particularly snide hunting technique that involves switching on banks and banks of lights in overgrown land at night and then clobbering the fuck out of whatever is disturbed and makes a run for it – an apt metaphor for what is going on here.) And in the middle of all the sexual revelation, ravings and desire strides Georgie Fruit once more. The 40-something “black she-male” (male – female – male) who used to be in a bad ass funk band called Arousal but now stands in the beautiful psychic wreckage of this album laughing at your attempts to make sense of it. Is Georgie Fruit like Tiresias – a man who becomes a woman for some time and thus able to say which gender enjoyed sex more? He is, after all, similar in some ways to one of the fractured voices of TS Eliot’s Wasteland, a prescient study of the collapse of the self in the modern age. I have no idea really. I just know that I love this album.

Click below to see our galery of photographs from Of Montreal’s only British show at Koko on Thursday.

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