Tag Archives: Of Montreal

The Year. 15-11

15. Of Montreal – False Priest [US]

People don’t want the kind of Kevin Barnes that gambols around in frilly clothes doing little falsetto squeals just for the hell of it. They want the kind of Kevin Barnes that does that to hide his crippling depression, which peeks out occasionally to remind them that this is knowing pastiche. It’s getting a lot harder to tell. So, past Skeletal Lamping’s Georgie Fruit and on to the rebuilt Barnes, we have False Priest. The key to oM and the reason post-Satanic Panic stuff is so much more engaging than the stuff before it is this (and no points for guessing): mythology. So False Priest’s highlights aren’t the Barnes-Brion high watermarks of production wizardry, which can actually get pretty cloying. They’re the bits where he pops out to say, ignoring meter, that after his uncle’s suicide, everyone was looking at him to succeed him as the family’s golden myth, but that all of his identity mutations were dosed in books. Or Janelle Monae cutting across his half-spoken synth funk story about an ex-girlfriend throwing his fish out the window to say that she can’t peel the flowers of the psychic disturbance. If you’re not into of Montreal, this album is probably as much use as an intro as a World of Warcraft expansion. But so what.
Four part interview I did and a Pitchfork.tv session.

Of Montreal feat. Janelle Monáe – Our Riotous Defects

14. Beach House – Teen Dream [US]

Forget who Victoria Legrand is. Okay. Now, imagine who someone called Victoria Legrand is. If the word ‘regal’ doesn’t leap into your mind, you’re probably dangerously republican. Because, despite the record-breaking number of times the word lush is used in connection with Beach House, it’s her that makes this any different from twenty other bands with vintage electric organs they got off eBay. These are, after all, songs built mostly off sedentary, unchanging drum machine beats. The organ chords are slathered on. They’re pillowy as all hell and for the first time, with Teen Dream, the vaseline’s off the lens. But what makes this the thing that demands to be put on in empty afternoons is that regal voice, more than just some slacker dude mumbling obscure lyrics (not that there isn’t merit in that) is Victoria Legrand. Name like a Disney character, she’s offering to take care of you, that she doesn’t want to know, that Norway is important for some reason. That’s a powerful thing.
Lovely cloudy Pitchfork.tv session, and interview, from here.

Beach House – Take Care

13. Future Islands – In Evening Air [US]

For a long time I thought the guy from Future Islands was genuinely some sort of older man. People described him as ‘a fat, bald guy’ and I presumed from that that the other two had decided to ask an eccentric guy from their community theatre class to try singing with them. Seriously, that specific. I listened to this album for months, talked about them with Double Dagger and even decided to go see them without fully realising that this wasn’t the case. Then I saw them, and he’s fat, old and bald for the indie-sphere, but not in the grand scheme. Still, that’s how I experienced In Evening Air, and it influenced it in a much more heavily surreal direction. This amateur actor, telling first person kitchen sink, almost soap-level stories of love with full on growls of emotion, sonic shirt-rending. Things like Long Flight, long and repetitive, breaking into screams and back down again, took on a bizarre theatricality, one that’s there no matter how you hear it, but somehow different. The steel drum riff in Tin Man, combined with this incredibly plaintive Orson Welles voice, is a force of nature. The album’s still great, re-listening, but you could try imagining what I imagined too if you want.
Future Islands at the eventual haj location, Whartscape, and from the Dublin gig.

Future Islands – Tin Man

12. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma [US]

Post-Dilla is a term I first head from Meljoann, as part of a string of genres I’d never heard of – aquacrunk, skweeee, etc – in an interview for Totally Dublin. In retrospect, though, it makes all kinds of sense for FlyLo. Dragged out drum hits, sad soul hewn out of the simplest bites of repeating vinyl wobble, an offer to side-nod that’s impossible to refuse. A lot of the critical writing on Cosmogramma decided to focus on the fact that it moved Flying Lotus past the term post-Dilla just by virtue of being really good at what it does, but I think that maybe misses a point. It is really good, and it’s different, but it is J Dilla on Saturn. There’s no shame in that. Twanging guru-searcher string hits on Computer Face interact with deteriorated conscious rap-esque soul piano on Arkestry and Tarantino soundtrack bigness on Satelllliiiiiteee, but it’s all tied together by that slovenly attitude to actually hitting the snare. Cosmogramma is its own mood.
Sputnikmusic review and some of the BBC session with a live band.

Flying Lotus – Computer Face


11. Porn On Vinyl – Old Folks’ Home
[IRL]

Having a recording that sounds a little like all of your too-many-kids jumping the back of your hatchback has a tendency to create its own fullness, its own atmosphere. There’s not much on Old Folks’ Home. The light harmonies or solo voice over struck guitar strings sit in, like an instrument, providing all the melodies, popping out on the first few listens only for those lines that read like slogans – “all things must die and all fires burn out” or “if we never die, our kids will never cry”. Weird chords keep it from ever being hokey, and the tape-clicks and imperfections keep your head in the game. There are obvious comparisons. Mountain Goats, Microphones, Neutral Milk Hotel. But to me it’s more like the first Sunset Rubdown or Why? albums, a home-written, home-recorded, home-layered, home-looking set of songs about home emotions, told through stories. That’s how to relate to them, and that’s why they’re so beautiful.
Drop-D review calling it “easily the best budget home recording I’ve ever heard” and the Lo-Fi Friday post from here with The Bonfire and Her Husband.

Porn On Vinyl – Song For A Dead Poet

Oh man, do I really have to go to that place again?: Kevin Barnes interview pt. 4

Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3

Okay, in a non-religion-related question, I wanted to bring up a comparison between what you’re doing with Jon Brion and the Talking Heads-Eno thing, where it started out as just a four-piece and eventually they got into a more studio-oriented David Byrne and Brian Eno thing. Do you think that has any parallels to the way you’re working now?

I don’t think so. I don’t think he’ll work with me again.

He won’t?!

I don’t think so. (laughs)

No?

Not because he didn’t have a good time or whatever, but we were supposed to just be together for a month, and it turned out to be like a three month process. It was always fun for me, and maybe it was fun for him too, but just from a budgetary standpoint, we went so far over-budget, and he invested so much of his own money just to make it happen. I mean, everything’s so different nowadays. In the 80s, labels had so much money that they wouldn’t really sweat it. People could spend six months in the studio or whatever. But I’ve never spent more than $200,000 to make a record, and this record surpassed that by so much more.

Cos I always record at home. It just makes sense. It’s the most economical way to do it, plus I feel really secure. I feel in a good place creatively. So I can just work without feeling, oh man, there’s deadlines and budgets and things like that that would be distracting. So going out to LA and working like that was my foray into that conventional record-making process. It was good, because I got to see how other people work. And I got to work with this amazing person. Jon Brion, I wouldn’t say he necessarily produced the record, because I’d basically written and recorded 85% of it before I went out there. And then when I went out there, it was mainly just replacing things. Like, I’d have this bassline and he’d say, “well, why don’t you re-record it through this bass amp through this vintage mic, using this other bass”. So then we thought, oh, let’s do that for every song. So I’d go through every single song and re-learn the bass part, and record it. And then we were like, “oh, we’ve got all these programmed drums, all these drum loops, let’s get a real drummer in and have him just play on top of it.” So we did that for every single song. And then we thought, “let’s add some low synthesisers, and some really high synthesiser stuff.” So we did that for a couple of weeks.

And then the whole mixing process took over a month as well. And there were all these technical issues, because he was using ProTools and I was using Logic. There was all this crazy shit that happened that extended the process much longer than it would have done. If I had’ve just gone into the studio and started from scratch, I don’t know what we would have come up with. I’m sure it would have been interesting. I’ve never worked with someone in that way. I’ve always just worked by myself, compiling songs and eventually at some point thinking, okay, I’ve got twenty-two songs. Do I want to make it a double album or a triple album, or do I want to make a single album? What songs do I cut? Normally I would work like that. But this time, I went out to California and I had maybe 18 songs that were totally done by of Montreal standards. And he would say “that song, you should put that on the record” or, “I don’t know, maybe you shouldn’t put that one on the record.” Just talking, and having a dialogue open with the label and with Jon, and my brother or whoever.

It’s totally different. It’s not completely different from the way I’ve worked in the past, but it’s definitely another element that has never existed before. And I learned a lot from him actually, especially about mixing and arranging songs. He’s an incredible musician, and his heart’s totally in the right place as far as making music. You know what I’m saying, like the difference between people who are listening to the radio and saying ‘we need something competitive with the Black Eyed Peas’ or whatever’s hot right now, and he’s not like that. He’s not coming from that place at all. He’s more like “oh, that Stevie Wonder song is so beautiful, how do they do that? God, if I could make something that beautiful, I’d be so happy.” And that’s where I’m coming from too. Just listening to other artists and being like ‘God, that’s what I want to do, I want to do something like that, that’s so beautiful, that’s so great.’ I don’t expect the records to sell, I don’t expect the songs to get played on the radio. It’s never happened, and it probably never will happen. It’s not really a factor I think about. It’s more about just making something beautiful and important and timeless.

Are you interested in working as a producer? You wrote the song on the Janelle Monae album.

Yeah.

Are you interested in doing that with other artists?

Yeah, definitely, but it would have to be a situation where I loved them, I thought they were fantastic human beings and amazing artists and it was just a privilege to be working with them. I don’t think I could do it with someone who just happened to be successful and had a lot of money, where they were like “some of my people said that you were pretty good, so let’s get together”.

What about being one of the people on an album with an elder statesman who does an album with younger people to freshen it up? If Stevie Wonder called, would you do a Stevie Wonder track?

Oh, if I were with Stevie? Yeah, in a second. But the thing is, I dunno… I wonder about this myself. Like, why do I love Stevie Wonder’s records from the Seventies so much more than his records from the present day? There’s so many artists like that. Like, I love her early or mid work, but the stuff they’re doing right now, I can’t really identify with. So I wouldn’t necessarily be working with Talking Book Stevie Wonder, I’d be working with whatever is his latest release. A lot of those artists, too, the stuff that they were making in the Seventies, and in the Sixties, it was a part of that time period. And because that time period doesn’t exist now, it’s like a dinosaur, it’s like a relic of some other time, it’s so much easier to romanticise it and think about it in this poetic way. Because it has nothing to do with your present day reality, it’s like a view into this past reality. And it’s easy to think about that time period as being more magical. Because our present time period, unless you’re just extremely optimistic, it can’t really compete.

Yeah.

It’s like, you’re thinking ‘oh, right now it’s just so mundane to be in this room’, but twenty-five years from now, if someone’s listening to this interview, they’ll be like, ‘oh my god, that’s his voice.’ You know what I mean? Or your kid hears this in twenty-five years and thinks ‘that’s my dad’s voice as a young man, it’s so magical’.

Yeah, like the period itself as well as the music just takes on its own magic.

Mmhmm.

I’ve got one or two more. Sorry to keep you here so long. Are you playing The Past Is A Grotesque Animal? And if you are, that song specifically is… on Drowned in Sound a couple of weeks ago you called it “a ten minute journey into hell”?

Yeah. (laughs)

And it still sounds that intense on the record as well, and I’m wondering, when you play it, is it like a performance or do you still…

Yeah it’s hard for me. I mean, definitely that was the lowest point for me in my life. So it’s hard to revisit it over and over and over again. It’s just like anything, the more you do it, the less powerful it can become. It’s not really like, I wanna just cut myself with broken bottles afterwards, you know? But it is… it’s kind of like ‘oh man, do I really have to go to that place again?’ Like, I’ll do it just because I have a lot of respect for the song, and I feel very privileged to have a song that people feel connect with and that people like. I’ve written so many other songs that people don’t have that connection with, so of course I’ll be like ‘oh great, this is one people like, they want to hear it, okay, cool. I gotta go there, I gotta put myself out.’ I think it’s great when artists go there, when artists put themselves out, make themselves a little vulnerable, that’s better than always having this front where you can’t penetrate their true selves. You should be more transparent in a way, like, what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling. I like people who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Yeah. Do you know Xiu Xiu?

Yeah.

I asked basically that same question to Jamie Stewart, of his songs, and he said it is digging it up, every time. He almost hates playing live. I just think that’s interesting, because other people have said, to similar things, that it’s just rote at this point.

Well, The Past is really the only song that has… well there’s a few songs I’d never play, for that reason. Like, I just don’t want to go there. Whereas The Past has more of a therapeutic quality to it, you know? Because it is so long, and it is such a journey. By the end of it, there is a great relief. It is really cathartic.

My final question was to ask what the beta fish was called.

The beta fish? That’s a good question actually. I can’t remember. I think its name was Hindlopp Stat

Himlopstadt?

H-i-n-d-l-o-p-p, one word. And then S-t-a-t.

Things that were done in the name of some ancient text: Kevin Barnes interview pt. 3

Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 4

Okay, I was gonna… maybe the primary collective emotion in Ireland at the moment is Catholic guilt, based on all the stuff that’s been coming out about abuse, and I was wondering about how it effected you as a person/songwriter to have been… you were raised Catholic right?

Yeah, I was raised Catholic.

Is that present in the way you think. do you think?

Yeah, I mean, i was always very suspicious of the church growing up. I had to go every week until I was 18, like ‘as long as you live under my roof’, my parents would make me go to church every week. I just sort of figured out really, like around 10 or 11, that it’s just ridiculous. You know, the hypocrisy is terrible, and the delusion is out of control, the whole idea of a spiritual hierarchy where someone is… I believe that everyone is equal, everyone is capable of the same spiritual connection to whatever divine force. I never looked up to a priest in my life, I never thought a priest was special. If anything, I thought they were delusional. But I understand that other people have their own belief system and I’m definitely not one to dismantle that or shake things up. I’m not going to say that what I believe is what everyone should believe. When I heard about all the molestation charges, it wasn’t a surprise.

That’s what happens when people put themselves into that situation. Obviously it sucks for the kids, it sucks for the adults as well. It sucks for everybody. It’s a terrible situation. Obviously, what they need to do if they want to make things at all better is to say, okay, priests can get married. The whole sexual repression thing is really what fucks it up. Of course really terrible things happen when you repress your natural desires. If your natural desire is to molest a young boy, you’re fucked anyway. You’re in a place where you can’t realise your terrible, unfortunate desires. But I kind of feel like for the most part, a lot of the priests wouldn’t have been so deranged, sexually, if they were allowed to have just a normal, healthy sex life. It’s a by-product of that repression.

It might be reading too much into it again, but there’s an interesting kind of dualism between you being raised Catholic, and you’ve talked about that, and then the show and the songs, a really overt celebration of sexuality. Do you think there’s anything to that? Like a reaction?

Possibly. You know, there might be a little bit of punk rock rebellion in me. But I don’t think it’s coming from a rebellious place. It’s more just a celebration, like you said. If I’m doing something, I don’t really feel like it’s blasphemous or anything like that. Maybe somewhere deep within my psyche there’s some thought of like… I dunno, it’s different now because my mother, who is the one who was the most vocal about me being involved in the Church is the most supportive. There’s stuff where she looks the other way. She doesn’t really want to see me naked on stage or doing anything too outrageous. But at the same time she’s extremely supportive.

So there’s really nothing to rebel against. It’s coming from a pure place. I mean really with the band, the only agenda I have is to push freedom. I fully support, you know, gay marriage, and I fully support acceptance. I want people to be accepted. I don’t want there to be a situation where anyone is excluded. As long as it’s coming from a positive place. I wouldn’t say that Nazis should be allowed to parade through the streets. And you could say that freedom of speech is important, but on some level we need to look out for each other, and if people are preaching a message of hate, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have the pulpit.

Yeah

They should be discouraged from it, you know? Like, ‘look man, you shouldn’t be allowed to celebrate your terrible belief system, you should be educated…’ (laughs) That’s a problem, you know, people can’t see beyond themselves? Like, oh, this is what I believe. That’s what I’m saying, I don’t think everyone should believe what I believe. I don’t think I’m the only right person in the world or whatever. Everyone can have their own viewpoint. But I think it should come from a humanistic place. We should care about each other and want to help each other.

You have that verse right at the end of the album, which is pretty much directly addressing religiosity or hardline people. Is that where that comes from?

Yeah, well that’s the whole thing. A lot of people, they think about God, or they think about the afterlife, and it’s more important to them than this life. And the afterlife is something that we can’t know. And when we do know, it’s too late. So the most important thing I think is to feel like this life has value. And our relationships in this life are more important than some perceived God. Some imaginary relationship that we could have with some imaginary figure. Because it’s really just coming from imagination.

Mmhmm

A lot of people, like my mother, think that faith has nothing to do with imagination. Like, faith is just as real… Her concept of God is just as real as her concept of me. So for her, if you tried to take away her ability to express that… you know, she always says ‘I’d be lost without my faith’. And that’s probably very common. Everybody who’s connected to some sort of organised religion probably has that sense. Like, the reason they are is because it does give them something positive.

Sure.

But when that positive thing gets in the way of healthy human interaction, then there’s a problem. So that’s all I’m trying to say. We should look out for each other, basically. (laughs) We shouldn’t put our concept of what God wants us to do in front of what we should do for each other, what makes sense. It should be the natural thing that we look out for each other first, and then, sure, maybe, God exists. But you can’t really get any information from some ancient text. People think that the Bible or the Qu’ran is the word of God or whatever. It makes me kind of a bit sick to my stomach to think about all of these things that were done in the name of some ancient text.

Part 4

Everybody’s kind of roleplaying all day long: Kevin Barnes interview pt. 2

Part 1

Do you think it limited you in any way not trying… have you been courted by major labels even?

Yeah we have, but I would never do that because they just want too much. That’s the great thing about being on Polyvinyl, they are so artist-friendly that they’re willing to lose money to help you realise your vision. The whole Skeletal Lamping collection was so risky. Most independent labels wouldn’t do that either, and no major label would do it. So they’re willing to take chances just to be a part of something cool. Which is really all you can ask of your label. It’s amazing. I feel lucky to have them on my side.

Is there any reason you didn’t release False Priest on t-shirt or whatever? I got a pretty good t-shirt last time.

I think we did that on some level but we didn’t create anything exceptional as far as the lantern or the wall decals. We actually have this really great idea that we’re going to use for the next record, the next EP that’s coming out. It’s gonna be a board game. We’re really excited about that. That was actually the plan for False Priest, that it was gonna be a board game, but we just ran out of time, so we had to do it for the next release which is gonna come out in spring.

So, in older interviews I read, you talked about retreating into fiction after the first few records, criticism got to you almost, and I wanted to talk about your return to fiction again with Skeletal Lamping and to a certain extent this record. Why do you think this is?

What do you mean by fiction? Personal?

Well it seems to me that Hissing Fauna is more…

Personal?

Autobiographical… maybe not autobiographical but…

Well yeah it is. I would say that Skeletal Lamping and False Priest are just as autobiographical, but maybe it’s a little bit more murky. It’s not just straight up, I had this real experience that other people can see with their own eyes and I’m gonna write about it. It’s like, a combination of real life experiences, fantasy, dreams… so the inspiration lyrically, it’s coming from inside of me obviously, it’s not straight fiction, it’s all based on real feelings, real fantasies, real life experiences or whatever. With Skeletal Lamping I was doing a little bit more roleplaying. Well there’s definitely roleplaying on all my records. I mean, everybody’s kind of roleplaying all day long with different people. You know how you are. If you have a number of different friends, a number of different relationships, you’re going to be a different person with each one of them. Maybe not a completely different person, but there are going to be elements of your personality that are going to be in the foreground or background depending on who you’re hanging around with.

So has the character changed between Skeletal Lamping and False Priest, such that there is one?

I think that really the major difference is, with Skeletal Lamping… you know, the Georgie Fruit character established around Hissing Fauna? On Skeletal Lamping I felt like Georgie Fruit was more of an outside character, and now I feel like in False Priest, it’s been integrated into my psyche in a way that it doesn’t feel like an alien force. It just feels straight from my heart in a way.

Do you do the show as Georgie Fruit then?

No, like now it’s…

You are Georgie Fruit?

There’s no distinction. It’s just right there. Same person, same entity.

The thing that struck me about False Priest being less of a character thing, or the character changing was the verse in Godly Intersex, it seems really confrontationally personal, about the uncle dying and being the golden child. I mean… how did writing like that come about?

Yeah, that’s all personal.

So there’s obviously a lot of personal stuff in this comparable to or even beyond what was on Hissing Fauna.

Yeah.

Sorry, I don’t really know where I was going with that.

It’s okay.

Is there any kind of logic to Janelle Monae’s parts, or what parts you give her. On Our Riotous Defects, you sing the chorus and tell the story, but then her couple of lines are more metaphorical. Is there any logic to why she got that part?

Well, people can be very critical of other people, especially in relationships. So she’s representing the voice that never gets heard. You might just be fighting back and forth and creating a caricature of your lover or whatever you want to call them. So she’s speaking in more abstract terms, like, this is the real reason why we can’t get along, but not saying it in the same style as the verses.

Are you interested in going further down that route with different singers? It almost seems like it could be a…

Yeah, definitely. I was thinking about that, I was thinking about this band called Sa-Ra Creative Partners, I’ve been listening to them a lot. They always have multiple vocalists singing on every song. It’s really interesting in that way because as long as each voice has a really strong identity, a really strong character, it becomes less homogenous. You know, if you listen to a record and it’s the same singer the whole way through, it feels kind of samey. But if there’s all these different elements you can put into it… that’s why I was happy putting Solange and Janelle on the record, because it just shakes it up a bit and adds depth to it so it’s not just the same thing all the way through. I’d definitely like to do that more. And actually on the tour we’re doing with Janelle Monae, one of the guys who’s part of her crew, he’s part of the Wondaland Arts Collective, which is her art collective or the art collective she’s a part of. We’ve been collaborating a lot, and he actually comes on stage and sings one of our songs. That’s the first time we’ve ever had that, like a guest vocalist or whatever singing one of the songs. I definitely want to get into that more.

It’s great to collaborate in that way, to allow other people to come out on stage and do their thing. I’m very influenced by Parliament and what they did. George Clinton wasn’t the front man in a traditional sense where he’s at the front of the stage singing every single song. He’d sing, do his thing, do his raps, whatever, and then he’d go off stage, and someone else would come on and sing. There’s always this incredible thing where all these vocalists come out, like, ‘that guy could be the lead singer, but that guy could too, or so could that guy’. All those guys were so talented, and so were those girls. It should be a celebration, it shouldn’t be an ego-trip, like ‘these are my songs, these are my lyrics, I’m the only person who can do it justice’ or whatever. I like the idea of other people interpreting it.

It’s almost most authorial or something.

Yeah

Are you going to go down a Mothership Connection route?

Well we sort of are. We sort of have been.

Like a movie extravaganza type thing?

Well our live show over here unfortunately isn’t as elaborate as it is in the States. Everything we do is self-financed, we don’t get tour support, so it’s our own investment. We come over here, the place we’re playing is a nice place, but we would never play a place this small in the US, so we haven’t really established ourselves over here. We’re not making the money that would support a major production. So we’re already losing money just to come over here even on this level, but if we were to come over here the way we really want to, it would totally fuck us.

That’s unfortunate.

Part 3 // Part 4

Don’t Do Anything That’s Going To Confuse People: Kevin Barnes interview pt. 1

This appeared, in feature format, cut by about 70%, in Issue 2 of TN2, the college newspaper culture supplement I edit while waiting for people to say something interesting on Twitter. I saw that of Montreal were playing The Academy, emailed Polyvinyl who have a correct reputation for being sound, and, after a phone interview for Totally Dublin fell through during the Skeletal Lamping tour last year, I finally got to sit down and talk to a person I genuinely consider to be a genius. Closest I’ve ever met anyway.

I suppose I was gonna start with, what does False Priest signify?

False Priest signifies freedom, creativity… the actual False Priest himself symbolizes betrayal of humanity.

Did you know that when the lyric was written on Hissing Fauna?

No, it could mean anything really. Or it doesn’t have to mean anything either. I try to just live in an organic fashion, especially artistically. I’m not one of those artist who spends a lot of time thinking about the concept or creating a whole mythology for everything I do, you know? In a lot of ways I just sort of feel like I just write things… it’s so integrated into my daily life that it’s like breathing. I don’t question every breath I take or think ‘what was the meaning of that sneeze?’ Writing is kind of the same way, I just write whatever feels natural, and I just do what I naturally feel inclined to do, so False Priest was just something that naturally occurred. Like a lightning strike, or something. Or like somebody walking into the room.

(Dottie walks into the room)

So there’s no logic to the three album titles?

There might be… maybe I’ll understand it when I’m sixty-five or something.

What inspired you to do that then?

Nothing better to do, I guess? No other dominating force. That was the thing that seemed like it wanted to happen, so let it happen.

It’s interesting that you say that you don’t try to build up a mythology or have logic to it, because there is one.

Yeah well, it happens organically, that sort of thing. I’m so… I think about it. I look at other bands or their videos or posters or whatever, and it seems like they put more thought into it before going into the project. Whenever I make something, it just has to happen in the moment, spontaneously. I can’t really… even for photographs or videos or stuff like that, you have to just start rolling. Eventually something will happen. I can’t really do things in a premeditated fashion. But once they start rolling, things take on a life-force of their own and then you get ‘oh, that’s what that is!’ or ‘oh, that makes sense because it connects with this and this and this’. That’s when the mythology sort of evolves, of its own force in a way.

Is there any narrative to the stuff that goes on in the live show, or is it just stuff happening?

Sometimes it is just a bunch of theatrical events that are pieced together, and sometimes there is a story. I don’t take that much of a role in that. My brother is the one who does most of the live theatrics as far as getting it together.

What do you think about Lady Gaga then? Obviously she’s just one huge human theatrical experience, but some people take her as being a postmodern statement in herself, and others thing she’s just sort of doing stuff.

I can’t imagine there’s any real deep message behind what she’s doing. It’s just… she’s a performance artist so…

Do you think she thinks there is?

There might be for certain costumes or certain characters she gets into. I don’t know her personally or follow her that much, but she’s one of those ubiquitous pop culture figures. Everybody knows who she is and everybody’s heard a couple of songs, but as far as what she’s about, I’m the last person you should ask.

So obviously now there’s a lot more funk and soul influences in your music, R’n’B stuff. How do you feel about the fact that you’ll probably be always thought of as part of an indie rock canon no matter what you sound like?

I think it’s great. I mean, indie rock has a different defintion in the US than it does over here. In the US there are a lot more actual indie labels. Over here I’ve heard people describe Blur as an independent band, it’s like ‘huh?’ It’s not a sound necessarily. It’s not a genre, it’s people on the outside of the mainstream. That’s what it means to me. So people who aren’t getting played on the radio or whatever. I think of independent music as really the only true musical artform. Music as art and not as a product. You might be commercially successful as an indie artist. Certain bands are, like Arcade Fire topping the Billboard charts or Fleet Foxes, certain bands who’ve been able to do something great on indie labels. Or not necessarily great, but commercially successful in addition to it being very creative.

And then there’s people on the other side, people like Ke$ha, what’s her face, the California Girls… Katy Perry. They’re still doing something fun and entertaining. I’m not a snob about music in that way. I like some Katy Perry stuff and some Lady Gaga stuff, but as far as people who are making music just for the sake of making music, because they love it or they’re driven to do it, it feels like it’s coming from a more pure place, you know? Art that’s coming from a place where you’re not really trying to just get your album sold at Walmart. In a way you’re just trying to make something that’s provocative and unconventional and unpredictable. And that’s what we’re about.

Is that why you stayed on Polyvinyl?

Yeah. Well I mean, you can still have… there’s bands like MGMT who put out one of the weirder records of this year, and they’re on a major label. So you can still do it on a major label, but usually a major label meddles too much. They’ve made this investment. They’re more like investors, they’ve invested a couple of hundred thousand dollars into your record, so it’s gotta sell. Don’t fuck around, don’t do anything that’s going to confuse people. Make something that people can identify with, something that will connect with the lowest common denominator of human beings.

But indie music is not about that. It’s not about connecting with the lowest common denominator. It’s about giving your audience credit for being intelligent, for being open-minded. And for being able to go there with you. That’s the thing too. You can’t expect everyone to like everything you do, and you can’t expect the masses to appreciate everything you do. Some artists can manage to get by being really creative, and others will always be underground because they are so creative. It’s kind of a weird thing. I can’t really figure out the formula. I think about it a lot, what makes certain bands so much more successful than other bands.

Part 2 // Part 3 // Part 4

All my identity mutations are dosed in books.

There I am, standing outside the Academy at 2.42pm, eating an apple that’s serving as a replacement for breakfast in case I need food to avoid freaking out. I’m about to meet and interview Kevin Barnes. If you want my opinion on Kevin Barnes, it’s here and here. If you don’t know who he is, he’s basically of Montreal, although you have pretty much no excuse for not knowing that.

A guy walks past me to the door with a paper bag. There are arms sticking out of it. I ask him if he’s going in, walk in with him and proceed to make small talk.

“Did you buy some arms?”
“Yeah man. 2 euro store. Some fake arms, some fake blood. And these silver gorilla masks. Gotta take advantage of the local plenty you know?”

This was David Barnes, Kevin Barnes’ brother, who did almost all of their cover art and had an excellent website full of other stuff before he took it down. I didn’t know that at the time or I would have had a bit of a fawn. Anecdote over.

Several hours later I show up to the actual gig, skillfully avoiding having to see Planet Parade. There’s a guy shouting at the bouncers after being kicked out already, within the first song. Good work MCD.

The first thing to notice about this gig relative to past of Montreal gigs is that it’s all a live band now. Where once there was a murkily-mixed backing track of programmed bass and drums, there are now talented musicians. The members who’ve been around forever have obviously had the Elephant 6 ramshackle shaken out of them at some point since the last tour. The most obvious new member is , K Ishibashi who plays violin, guitar, keyboards and bass, if I recall correctly, and also does a wicked impression of Kevin Barnes’ falsetto that leaves The Late BP Helium free stage-left to do the harmonies in a range he’s more comfortable with while he vogues and plays a double-neck guitar.

It’s strange seeing of Montreal now. Hissing Fauna was Hissing Fauna (and – get this, oM fans who are as lax in their study as I seem to be – Barnes pronounces it Fowna). The subsequent albums are, by every scientific standard, less good. But Skeletal Lamping rewarded patience, even if the urge to perform some sonic surgery to remove the ‘I’m a motherfucking headliner’ bit from the otherwise lovely Wicked Wisdom is strong as ever. And False Priest, dripped as it is in the affected falsetto sex squeal thing and confused as it might sound, is just as intriguing once you realise what it is that he’s actually saying.

They’re a better band now than they’ve ever been before, to see live. And, without the Jon Brion post-production, False Priest stuff sits incredibly well alongside the Sunlandic Twins/Hissing Fauna/Skeletal Lamping stuff. Our Riotous Defects touches Comedy Barnes, unseen for the most part since before Nina, weird sex squeal Barnes, and, on Janelle Monae’s part that he sings himself in her absence, abstract, transcendent Barnes. And Coquet Coquette could’ve sat in after She’s A Rejecter fairly comfortably, three years ago.

There was also plenty of Hissing Fauna, which is great news even to the hardiest of devotees. The live band means they can do an accelerating intro to Gronlandic Edit that drops a bomb when it actually kicks in. Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse, being the ‘hit’ in these parts as far as I can discern, goes down predictably well too. It’s weird, though. Barnes is a different person on stage, or at least a different character, than he was when he was doing this stuff the first time round. It’s post-Georgie Fruit Kevin Barnes that sings everything now, no guitar in hand, pretty much frolicking around the stage with his admittedly improved but also slightly less revelatory singing voice. That’s fine, and lots of fun. But worth noting.

And so David Barnes used the arms and the blood and the silver gorilla masks. Anthropomorphic animals in lycra battled on stage, they begged for Kevin’s blessing, they lifted him up, they faked fighting him, they played hype man for the encore and they exploded streamers and confetti from their wrists like weird abstract Spidermen. It’s a reverie, no doubt.

The encore? There’s almost always a cover. If you weren’t hep to that, check out You Ain’t No Picasso’s archive of oM’s covers. There are lots, and those are only the ones that got catalogued. They’re usually tributes to someone you can hear in their music – David Bowie features heavily, say, and so do the various 60s bands you see on the cover of Mojo, and Prince. Fittingly for Nu-Kevin, the encore in the Academy was…

Thriller! An exclamation mark there – one in every 10,000 words is apparently the guideline, so it’s probably time – to acknowledge how surprised the crowd was when the massive synth chords hit for the first time. And then two more Michael Jackson songs medley’d into it before going back to those Thriller chords to end. It’s not The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, but it was fun as hell.

+

The Year. 3. The kind of guy who would leave you in a K-hole to go play Halo in the other room.

3. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping
Polyvinyl
Word on the street has it that the album format is dead, and that pick ‘n’ mix downloading from mp3 megastores like iTunes and eMusic is the way of the future. Well, even if you’re naïve enough to believe that money will continue to change hands as the generations who have never had to pay for music march resolutely on, you’d have to be pretty deluded or incredibly narcissistic to believe that you’d be able to play God with an album and come out the better for it, telling from 30 second previews which songs are worth having and which are likely to be skipped over anyway. Like, on your iPod.

If you do believe that, though, I doubt you’d have much fun with Skeletal Lamping. Following up what seemed to be a perfect synthesis of the Pop Song and incredibly complex, cerebral structures and lyrics on ‘Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?’ (my erstwhile favourite album, though a late challenger may have emerged), Skeletal Lamping eschews the ultimately superficial shell that is the 2-6 minute song. If you were trying to figure out which songs you’d like from 30 second samples on Skeletal Lamping, you’d literally only be hearing about a quarter of the songs, or ‘sketches’ as they might more properly be called.

The concept, as I grasp it, is as follows: Kevin Barnes comes up with what is known in the trade (maybe) as a “bit”. Normally, this would be hewn through hard labour into something approaching a four-minute song. But on Skeletal Lamping, the bit exists in its own right. It segues into another bit, which could be completely different. This process repeats, and occasionally bits might reappear, or an extended sketch which goes verse-chorus-verse-chorus might show up, but the net result is, at the end of an hour or so, a fairly volatile mass of styles.

Could be terrible. Probably sounds terrible. Some people did think it was terrible, perhaps misguidedly expecting that most sacred of taboos, a repeat of the last record. It’s not terrible though. It is, very basically, a mind map. 50%, say, of Kevin Barnes’ mind is reasonably funky. 20-30% is concentrated in doe-eyed pop, some of which crosses over into the 50% funk. Sometimes he turns into Aladdin Sane for about a minute and a half. Sometimes he’s normal and he sings nostalgic love songs. Sometimes he is fucked up and sings from the perspective of a middle-aged pre-op transvestite named Georgie Fruit, who you may have met in the latter stages of Hissing Fauna.

The pieces of the jigsaw often don’t make sense in isolation. But of course they don’t. Who has ever looked at a single jigsaw piece and exclaimed in recognition of genius? That doesn’t happen. It’s a mind-map. It doesn’t make sense by itself. It makes sense as a whole, though, and probably gives a clearer picture of a particularly interesting person/character/person than any of Of Montreal’s previous efforts did, even though they weren’t half as veiled. At moments there is unbearable tension, such as a pitch-black invocation of the ubiquitous “ladies of the spread” who overlook Georgie’s existence. At other moments, there is reckless, screwy disco abandon that would seem like kids’ TV if you hadn’t heard the half-hour of music that came before.

Cokemachineglow said there weren’t moments of transcendence. I got into an argument about this, and shorn of the weapons of sobriety and reasoned detachment, I did what I always do. I got vaguely hysterical and threw my hands to heaven. There are moments of transcendence. So many. First track, Nonpareil of Favor. Its title is a fucking moment of transcendence in itself. Anyone who uses words that are almost exclusive to Macbeth in the title of a song is permanently invited to my house (familiarity with my sometimes musical project is not expected – but about 75% of the songs have Shakespeare references, mostly to Macbeth). The measuredness of the build-up is transcendent. Kevin/Georgie celebrating a love realised in the first (and only) verse is transcendent. Turning the first corner of the album is transcendent in itself, and the sleaze of the second sketch is, through contrast with the first one, transcendent too.

But let anyone stand in front of me and tell me that the three minute wig-out that follows is not transcendent. It struck me (on a bus, as these things are wont to do) that the wig-out at the end of Nonpareil of Favor is both a representation of chaos in the perceptible universe in general and inside the head of Kevin/Georgie. That somebody can make noise sound like something that specific and that complex is surely a sign of genius?

I realise that this review moreso than probably any of the other album reviews I’ve done here is based totally on a subjective view of the album. But in the end, every review is subjective. This CD, complete with David Barnes’ insanely detailed, analogous-to-the-music fold-out cover art, took over my life for a while. So it commands this place. The only question I have: how do you follow this?