By: Dennis Cook
There's enough ideas for a whole album in opener "Nonpareil of Favor," and then a double record stockpile by second cut "Wicked Wisdom." Things smooth out as this progresses but even at its lightest this is akin to listening to Chic full blast while someone slaps their balls against your forehead. Kevin Barnes, the large sacked mastermind behind of Montreal, is cookin' with gas on his band's ninth studio album, Skeletal Lamping (released October 21 on Polyvinyl Records). It's not as if the boy has ever been lazy but the gears of his hyper-kinetic Rube Goldberg devices are greased and aligned to a machine purr this time. With Lamping, Barnes firmly plants himself on the Rushmore of pop-architects alongside Todd Rundgren, Jeff Lynne, Joe Meek and Phil Spector.
What makes Barnes unique is the generational split he has with these ancestors. His creations are the spliced 1's and 0's of Pro-Tools, laptop manipulation and myriad other modern marvels. There's a level of intimacy and ontological perversity to of Montreal that rarely occurs in works grounded solely inside studios. There's the musky stink of bedrooms and hotels to his grooves, the spill of emotions normally left on the sofa when one leaves home to record. That's not to suggest anything about Lamping is lo-fi. Barnes crammed all his early charms into Oslo's Apollinaire Rave Studios, and this is a full body hug of Technicolor audio-cinematography – vaguely dizzying, broad horizon, full frame verve. From the garish, H. Bosch-esque cover (which suggests a carnivorous Garden of Eden devouring naked, gray Adam & Eve and then further inside a smiling same-sex fantasia replete with human-plant hybrids!) to the florid bombast of the arrangements to the onslaught of concepts lobbed at our heads, Skeletal Lamping is the definition of bold. The feel is fusion cuisine gone haywire – delicious, assaultive, subtle, colorful and brightly unrestricted, though rarely more than two of these things at once. If you're a fan of strong flavors, down to the occasional raunchy nibble of fermented vegetation or pungent organ meat, then this is you're album. Don't worry, it's still kind of pop music, if say Ken Kesey and Hunter S. ran the broadcast towers.
The November '08 cover of Paste Magazine called Barnes the "Heir of Bowie," and that Thin White Dukeness seems to be the general consensus. However, these ears hear Barnes' glammy hands digging around in more obscure fields – Roxy Music's Country Life, Sparks' Kimono My House, Giorgio's Moroder's '70s production for Donna Summer, the Xanadu soundtrack, Suicide's 1977 debut, 10CC's Sheet Music. If there's Bowie inside Skeletal Lamping it's the joyfully experimental David of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), though there's the same hot firing imagination in the Lindsey Buckingham sections of Tusk, which also looms as a Skeletal ancestor. However, I'm not sure any of his forebears could sell a line like "I'm so sick of sucking the dick of this cruel, cruel city," which Barnes delivers in a '70s slow jam falsetto full of stale cock breath and disappointment. Even more impressive is the real tenderness that emerges when he drops his provocateur stance and sings, "Why am I such damaged goods? Why am I such poisoned goods? I don't how long I can hold on if it's gonna be like this forever."
Regardless of where one situates of Montreal on the timeline, Skeletal Lamping is a work of mad genius. Impetuous, sexy and more than anything, great fun with buckets of brains and remembrances of blow jobs past when our narrator "was down to give it up to almost anyone who was sweet." Mere titillation like this would be fine spice but Barnes turns it over & over, revealing crannies of revelation and the dust of regret within a life lustily lived. Whoa, whoa, whoa feelings, that's the real story inside the clamor and thrust of Lamping, and it's a really, really fine one, too.
Here's the polymorphously perverse video for "Id Engager."
And here's a live flashback to 2006 with of Montreal showing off some of their ancestry with a cover of Os Mutantes' "Bat Macumba."
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