Kevin Barnes’ Of Montreal has the honor of being both the most prolific Elephant Six affiliated band and possibly the most underrated. While Neutral Milk Hotel and The Apples in Stereo may have received heaps of critical acclaim in their time, Of Montreal never quite earned the sort of praise associated with an album like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. And yet, Barnes has released eight full length albums, several EPs and a few compilations, thereby outlasting every one of his contemporaries (except the Apples who never officially broke up). And going back through the OM catalog reveals an artist who remained consistently good, as well as simply consistent. The busily colorful album artwork, impossibly long album titles and lovely, psychedelic pop—all of these elements show no drastic changes over the years, though there seems to be a continual metamorphosis in terms of style. This is particularly evident on the latest series of Of Montreal reissues on Polyvinyl, originally released on the now-defunct Kindercore.
The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy is a subdued acoustic recording, lo-fi and simple. Yet it’s a quintessentially Of Montreal album. Barnes’ voice, unpolished, yet surprisingly good for a indie four-tracker, is a recognizable element, as well as his slightly trippy songwriting, which almost sounds vaudevillian in this element. Take opener “One of a Very Few of a Kind,” (coincidentally the first Of Montreal song I ever heard) all bouncy strums and kazoo solos. Who wouldn’t love it? And the piano driven “Panda Bear” is a gorgeous and lush (by comparison) ballad, while “Please Tell Me So” is a strummy, waltzing, Beatlesque song, one of the best here.
Meanwhile, The Bird Who Continues to Eat the Rabbit’s Flower is more of a “rock” album, guitars plugged in, and drums snapping. Suffice to say, it’s still pretty lo-fi and simple, but more sonically in line with its Fab forebears. It’s also one of few Of Montreal discs with no underlying theme, as there was in The Gay Parade or its subsequent, sometimes political counterparts. Still, it has some fine tunes, plenty of jangly guitars, psychedelic organs and lots of catchy melodies. One particular standout is the pro-gay “When a Man is in Love With a Man,” a fun and touching little song that, despite its imperfections, is hard not to love.
Now, The Early Four Track Recordings should not be construed as anything more than what its title might imply. It’s a fuzzy set of demos, mostly pleasant and by no means bad. Yet its unfinished and raw nature lends itself to disposability, and would probably only appeal to completists. It has some nice melodies here and there, however, and the Dustin Hoffman theme in all of its songs’ titles is somewhat amusing, if a little confusing.
Looking back through the Of Montreal catalog, Barnes has definitely come a long way in his recording and arranging, though the songwriting chops were always there. Considering these three discs had been previously issued, most major Of Montreal fans will likely have the Kindercore versions, but new converts who discovered the band through any of their more recent offerings may find some classic gems on these reissues, particularly Bedside Drama.
Of Montreal – Horse and Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed)
The Minders – Cul de Sacs and Dead Ends
Apples in Stereo – Science Faire
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.