As we’ve all learned, up to this point, Kevin Barnes is Of Montreal. Sure, you’ll see pictures of a six-membered band in magazines, as you also most certainly will in a live setting. But on recordings, it’s just Kevin, which is a discovery almost as surprising as the time you found out Nine Inch Nails was just Trent Reznor. But since we’ve had some time to absorb both, we’ve gotten used to the idea of a one-man Montreal. His warm, fuzzy psychedelic pop songwriting has characterized the band’s sound since day one. And though the recording methods may have evolved in fidelity, Of Montreal hasn’t been altered much since day one. And now’s the part where you’re expecting me to say “until now.” But, no, that’s not really true. The Sunlandic Twins, the Georgia band/songwriter’s latest, is exactly what an Of Montreal album sounds like.
There are some basic differences between Twins and Barnes’ previous full-length, Satanic Panic in the Attic. Barnes has taken the dance pop factor up a notch, inserting a groovy drum machine beat or a funk bassline in more numerous and obvious places than before. But it’s not like Of Montreal has become The Rapture. The same basic psychedelic textures and catchy melodies are still where Barnes left them. He just dressed them up with the sound of Rolands.
“Requiem For O.M.M.2” may begin with a wash of feedback, but a few seconds in, Barnes’ trademark Beatlesque pop takes center stage. On one of the most overtly funky tracks, “I Was Never Young,” Barnes recites the song’s title several times over a hot beat, presenting an interesting contradiction. He may claim he was never young, but there was always an impish, playful quality to his work that a mere “grown-up” certainly wouldn’t appreciate, much less create. But in the case of Of Montreal, adults can have their fun too, I suppose.
On the more rock-leaning tracks, like “Forecast Fascist Future,” Barnes plays up his strengths, forgoing his newfound obsession with samplers to do what he does best: play fun and multi-layered lo-fi rock operettas. But the funk thing can work too, like on “So Begins Our Alabee,” which has a new wave quality reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian’s “Electronic Renaissance.” In fact, it’s one of Barnes’ finest songs to date, even if it’s not necessarily characteristic of his best work. But some of the more electronic-based material, like “The Party’s Crashing Us,” do little more than echo Panic‘s “Disconnect the Dots.” Then again, there are oddly interesting tunes like “Oslo in the Summertime” to make up for them.
Of Montreal should be applauded for approaching a new style so wholeheartedly. However, it sounds like Kevin Barnes hasn’t quite perfected this new incarnation quite yet. It’s getting pretty close, but in the meantime, it’s still quite fun to listen to him work out the kinks.
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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.