Kevin Barnes has made a livelihood out of playing dress up on of Montreal albums; from a peace and love paisley troubadour, to a pop-centric studio loner, to a manic depressant, anxiety-ridden groove maker, to a transvestite hooker. Barnes has taken character-driven songwriting to new heights. The thing is, I think each “character” Barnes has taken on have all been elements of himself. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer seemed to be the most biographical he’d gotten on any album up to that point, using that record as a jumping off point into two albums(Skeletal Lamping and False Priest) where he got lost in those record’s worlds. In 2013 with the release of Lousy With Sylvianbriar, Barnes opened the studio doors to friends and recorded as a real band, live in the studio directly to tape. The result was a buzzing, breathing record filled with late 60s nostalgia by way of the Stones and Bob Dylan. Now, with Aureate Gloom Kevin Barnes stuck with that living, breathing formula in the studio and traded in the late 60s nostalgia for mid-70s New York grime. The Stones and Dylan have been shelved for Television’s beatnik post-punk and Talking Heads’ jitters. of Montreal haven’t sounded this vital and in-the-moment since 2007.
“Bassem Sabry” is all funk and disco skronk, and it puts us in Barnes’ headspace right away. It sounds like Talking Heads, had they gone full-on disco. The song shifts as Barnes sings “I’ll never follow, no kind of master’s voice” with a melancholy lean before the song refrain “I believe in witches, I believe in you” fades us out. It’s a great opening track, and one that seems to encompass everything that’s great about a Kevin Barnes song. “Last Rites At The Jane Hotel” is filled with all kinds of gnarly attitude and jagged regret. “Empyrean Abattoir” starts out like an IRS-era R.E.M., all tight high hat and driving bass before the song gets mildly frantic and psychedelic in the chorus. “Aluminum Crown” floats on a cloud of disenchantment as Barnes sings “I’ve been cursed by troubled dreams, I’ve been hurt by troubled dreams”, before the song kicks in jangly new wave mode half way through. “Virgilian Lots” is classic of Montreal, with genteel backing vocals and some classic Barnes vernacular.
I think the most striking thing about Aureate Gloom is how good this band sounds. They sound like a cohesive, rock ‘n roll machine willing to perform whatever pops into Kevin Barnes’ head and with great ease and vigor. Barnes did the studio loner thing for quite a few years, and with much success. Hell, I will throw fisiticuffs with anyone that says anything bad about Skeletal Lamping as I feel it’s a genius and masterful mess. But by 2011 I think the formula for of Montreal needed some tinkering. Adding living, breathing cohorts to the mix to help Barnes create his aural mazes and melody-painted panic attacks was just what this band needed. “Estocadas”, for my money, is the greatest example of that. It’s rock swagger, psychedelic blues, and overall melancholy bridge epitomizes everything Barnes is capable of. He shows the verbiage he’s known for is no match for heart-on-sleeve pain and pissed-on aspirations. “Estocadas” is baroque and gritty and damn near perfect.
If you’ve never been a fan of of Montreal, I’m not sure the tide will turn with Aureate Gloom. It’s very much an of Montreal record; which is to say it’s still fussy, labyrinthine, and sometimes a hard pill to choke down. Thing is, those exact things are what make of Montreal fans come back for more. Kevin Barnes creates musical tapestries that you can get lost in. He creates worlds that look familiar and strangely perverse at all once. You commit to an of Montreal album. You’re rewarded with raw art and pained emotion. Aureate Gloom is of Montreal at their grittiest and gnarliest yet.
8.5 out of 10