BY RYAN MARR
An uneasy foreboding dictated my feelings for indie-psych-pop sideshow Of Montreal last June, when Kevin Barnes, the band’s creative force and closest thing indie rock has to a mad genius, announced via MySpace blog the release of their new album, “Skeletal Lamping.”
“Lamping is the name of a rather dreadful hunting technique where hunters go into the forest at night, flood an area in light, then shoot, or capture, the animals as they panic and run from their hiding places,” Barnes explained in his blog. “This album is my attempt at doing this to my proverbial skeletons.”
Anyone who’s ever leafed through a copy of Rousseau’s cringe-inducing “Confessions,” or listened to early Bright Eyes records can tell you there’s something painfully awkward and annoyingly pretentious about an artist exorcising their personal demons as public spectacle.
.Yet on “Skeletal Lamping,” Barnes unashamedly embraces the sexually-charged skeletons scrambling from the repressed regions of his psyche with the indulgence of a kid in a candy shop, shoveling unconventional melodies, bouncy bass lines and sexual fantasies into one giant grab bag of an album that is as bizarre as it hummable.
Musically, “Lamping” is a far cry from the infectiously catchy, syrupy-sweet sing-a-long choruses that have come to define Of Montreal on recent albums as Barnes, engaged in a constant battle to reinvent himself, opts for a scatter-brained musical train wreck of noise, funk, r & b, and techno that never amounts to more than just a pastiche of genres.
These songs are anything but predictable, eschewing the verse/chorus/verse approach of conventional pop tunes for an exhausting array of movements linked by obnoxiously abrupt transitions.
This approach isn’t entirely fruitless, however. On the surprisingly melancholic minor-key piano ballad “Touched Something’s Hollow” Barnes takes a respite from the madness to moan forlornly, “Why am I so damaged girl?/ I don’t know how long I can hold on/ if it’s going to be like this forever.”
When a parade of horns triumphantly blasts into the mix several seconds later, the transition is sheer “did he really just do that?” joy.
These horns kicking off “An Eludarian Instance,” could have carried the weight of an entire track on previous albums, but now Barnes, successfully unpredictable, quickly ditches them for strings and an angelic vocal harmony before taking off on a slippery, climbing guitar melody that inevitably crash lands into skittering drum machines and less-than-spectacular bass meandering.
Lyrically, Barnes has crawled out of the loneliness and depression he descended into on last year’s stellar “Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer?” instead finding solace in the Dionysian orgy depicted in erotic detail on the album’s infinitely-unfolding cover art.
“If I’m gonna create who I am. I don’t want to be this shy, meaningless creature that hasn’t made a splash in the world,” Barnes said in a recent interview with Paste magazine. “I want to be something outrageous and fantastic and inspiring and bizarre.”
Enter Georgie Fruit: Barnes’ androgynous African-American take on Ziggy Stardust responsible for album quotables “We could do it soft-core if you want/ but you should know I take it both ways” and “you’re the only one with whom I’d role play Oedipus Rex.”
These sketches (not really songs) seem to catch Barnes at the drawing board tossing musical ideas around with the same lyrical abandon he displays towards his own sexual identity.
It is this total abandon for convention, in all of its guises, that ultimately sinks “Skeletal Lamping.” In his quest towards self-discovery, Barnes not only discovers the unconventional, often sex-crazed alter egos lurking just under the surface, he hands them the artistic reins to the album.
Not to say that loyal followers of Barnes won’t enjoy this schizophrenic onslaught— there are fleeting moments of genius and album closer “Id Engager” is a satisfying single in its own right.
But casual fans will quickly bore of the album’s experimentation and have to rely on the hope that now Barnes has lamped out all “his proverbial skeletons,” his next effort will have a little more flesh and blood.