Of Montreal’s ‘Skeletal Lamping’: Kevin Barnes’ Dark Horse

skeletal-lamping-by-of-montreal_267871_fullOut of all the Of Montreal albums that have been released in the last 10 years(there have been a lot in case you weren’t counting) Skeletal Lamping seems to be the most divisive one. When it came out there seemed to be a universal “ugh” that emanated from the mouths of critics,(some)fans, and the occasional Kevin Barnes dabbler. For me, it was the complete opposite. I’d bought the album and listened to it before reading any reviews or hearing any sort of feedback and I loved it. LOVED it. After listening to it twice I was convinced it would be heralded as a masterpiece of funked up, sexy psychedelic weirdness. It opens with “Nonpareil of Favor”, which starts up like it could’ve come off Of Montreal’s previous masterpiece, 2007s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer. It was fun, bouncy, poppy, and filled with Barnes’ ever-present maze of Willam S. Burroughs-inspired freaky vernacular, and singing like a lovelorn alien. Then about halfway the song slows down a bit and gets kinda funky before the songs begins to melt into a wall of white noise. Something like Ministry as a garage rock band, or Skinny Puppy attempting to break into the paisley syndicate. It’s like going from a great high into this endless bad trip. This was not the Kevin Barnes of yore. This is not twee folk Kevin Barnes, or the indie dance pop Kevin Barnes, or even the psych folk indie dance pop twee Kevin Barnes. No, this was something completely different and I loved it.

But I seemed to be in a minority, and I didn’t understand. Ever since I first discovered Of Montreal in late 2007(I was a late bloomer) when I picked up Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer on a whim one post-Christmas trip to Borders I feel like I’ve just gotten Kevin Barnes. He just seems like this incredibly creative and flamboyant artist that has a closet full of different hats that he wants to wear all at the same time. A guy that has so many ideas it hurts until he can get them out. Since getting into Of Montreal I’ve since gone back and pillaged their back catalog and I have to say things really didn’t start getting interesting until 2004s Satanic Panic In The Attic. With that album Barnes sounds as if he gave into his EDM demons and said the hell with being just another member of the Elephant Six Recording Company. He did a great job of balancing his love for 60s pop and skronky dance floor boogie, creating something kinda new. His music felt like he built his own brand of white boy funk from the ground up. The Sundlandic Twins and Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer took those elements and perfected them, allowing Barnes to exorcise personal demons through his lyrics. And lyrically, it’s quite a ride. I mean, it seems Kevin Barnes has created a whole new vocabulary in his songs. It’s almost like reading A Clockwork Orange and having to check the dictionary in the back of the book to see what the hell I was reading. In the case of an Of Montreal album there is no appendix to go to and figure out what Kevin Barnes is really saying, but after repeated listens you start to get the gist.

So back to Skeletal Lamping. We know a lot of folks didn’t care for this album, and I feel sorry for them. I really do. If you don’t take the time to truly soak this record in you’re not going to like it. Or get it. Or want to get it for that matter. It’s what those folks that can’t admit that their favorite album isn’t very good call a “grower”. As in “What??? You don’t like Skeletal Lamping?? Man, you have to listen to it a few times cause it’s a grower.” In this case, though, it’s true. Honestly. It’s not an album with songs to enjoy at parties or while you’re sitting at Starbucks studying for an exam. This is an album you play from start to finish and let it soak into your brain. It’s more like a mixtape made by snippets of Barnes hedonistic raves that happen in his mind. It’s this raunchy cut and paste album that moves from weird moments of caustic skronk to little chunks of pop strewn about the dank living room where some drug-induced orgy occured the night before. When it first came out in 2008 I likened it to Paul’s Boutique-era Beastie Boys making Sign o’ the Times with Prince. There are moments of pop bliss and mainstream dance, all of them strung together with these snippets of weed and Special K-stained beats and bass lines. It’s at times like The Delfonics and Parliament, at times The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Caligula. “Wicked Wisdom” opens with the line “I’m a motherfucking headline, oh bitch you don’t even know it” sung in this falsetto that would’ve sounded right at home on Controversy. Then there’s talk of a black she-male(Georgie Fruit, of previous Of Montreal songs.) Georgie is the alter-ego Barnes writes as on this album. This is his Ziggy Stardust album, I suppose. As this character he sounds uninhibited and open to whatever comes into his head. Songs morph from pop and funk to psychedelic scourges in the blink of a fake eyelash. “We can do it softcore if you want, but you should know that I go both ways” Barnes declares on “For Our Elegant Caste” then he makes a reference to Voltron. It’s nuts. Don’t get too comfortable though, we go right into “Touched Something’s Hollow”, a short moment of melancholy piano balladry that goes right into the pop fun of “An Eluardian Instance”, the closest cousin to Sunlandic Twins-catchiness. “Women’s Studies Victims” is skinny white boy funk with a healthy dose of sexy bits thrown in before morphing into the 70s soul of “St. Exquisite’s Confessions”. This track is like Curtis Mayfield jamming with the Thin White Duke on Mars. There’s even reference in the lyrics to The Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23”, before a lovelorn Barnes sings “Maybe I’ll blow you….whatever kind of kisses you want.” What’s not to love about this? It’s beautiful, catchy, filthy, and high art of the highest order.

Have I talked about this album long enough? Probably. I guess I’m hoping that someone will read this that didn’t really dig Skeletal Lamping the first time around and will possibly sit down with this album again and give it a front-to-back listen. Don’t skip around for the catchy song(if you have to skip, “An Eluardian Instance”, “And I’ve Seen a Bloody Shadow”, “Mingusings”, and “Id Engager” are great standalone tracks if you must.) Just let this album move around you, touch you, slap you around, caress you, and freak you out. Just let it take you over for an hour. Have a drink, or whatever. Open your mind a bit and let Georgie Fruit take your hand. You might like what happens.

Next up, why Paralytic Stalks is the best album no one gave a s**t about. It’s genius, btw.


Editors Note: If before even hitting play on this album you are not a fan of Of Montreal I can’t promise you will be afterwards. If you like creative, adventurous artists that say f**k it and do what’s in their souls on their albums and say to hell with the consequences, then buy the ticket and take the ride. Thank you. JH







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