Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping

This is the ninth studio release from the Athens, Georgia band fronted by lynchpin and band creator Kevin Barnes. For those not familiar with their work, Of Montreal are a flamboyant, extravagantly experimental outfit, not least on this fascinating album.

The music that they create, here, has strong echoes of both funk (see the very Prince-like parts in ‘Wicked Wisdom’ and ‘Plastis Wafers’) and a sort of kitch disco on ‘Gallery Piece’ and ‘Id Engager’, for example. You can also hear a lot of Queen in both the vocal delivery and the sense of melodrama. This is even given a lyrical nod, in ‘Wicked Wisdom’, when Barnes sings “When we get together / It’s always We Are Champions my friend”.

What makes this much more interesting than it may seem on a first, or superficial, listen, however, is the subject matter and how the themes are portrayed. This album is louche, highly-sexed, often sexy and sometimes pretty damned smutty. Barnes - one assumes autobiographically - depicts a world of “Having great sex inside the house machines”, obsessional love where he wants to “… make you come / Two hundred times a day”, gangbanging, screwing “standing in the kitchen, ass against the sink”, “gentle people fucking”, an inappropriate object of lust who “fucked your sister” and “let your brother suck him” and so on, and on. The sexuality and states of mind portrayed for the main part also have in common an ambivalent, fluid sense of sexual orientation and gender identity. Barnes claims, on ‘Wicked Wisdom’, for example, that he’s “… just a black she-male”, and explains “You should know I take it both ways” (‘For Our Elegant Castle’), and singing of a character who “… painted her face like a man’s” (‘Women’s Studies Victims”).

In amongst all this rampant shagging, and gender-boundary-blurring, though, there are also too some downright romantic bits - love is definitely not left out of the mix, and forms a significant part of ‘An Eluardian Instance’, ‘Gallery Piece’ (“I wanna be your love”, sings Barnes, albeit of a clearly obsessional / stalkerish type) and ‘Plastis Wafers’.

The sense of lack of clear identity doesn’t just cover sexuality, however. A general confusion and blurring of boundaries is found throughout, from “All the misinterpretations that define me and you” of the opening track ‘Nonpareil of Favor’, to the “Bad weather in my temporary head”, so wonderfully described in ‘And I’ve Seen A Bloody Shadow’, to the admission on ‘Mingusings’ that “I feel like an accidental species”. This feeling and outlook is best described on key track ‘Death Is Not A Parallel Move’ which speaks of a “fractured consciousness” and tells how “The identity I composed out of terror has become oppressive now”. At such moments, despite the upbeat fast-moving music accompanying them, these words sound very much like the description of some quite major, heavy and serious depression and mental-health issues.

Drugs are touched upon too, particularly in perky-sounding stand out track ‘Beware Our Nubile Miscreants’, where the anti-hero is described as being “… the sort of guy who will leave you in a k-hole”, and where the singer reminds the protagonist of the time when “… he was over at Rachel’s cooking crystal meth”. Other songs I particularly enjoyed (or perhaps more accurately, that I found particularly interesting) were ‘For Our Elegant Castle’, ‘An Eluardian Instance’, ‘Gallery Piece’, and ‘Triphallus, To Punctuate!’

One track merges into the next, or seemingly splits while still officially bearing the same title on many occasions throughout the album. This, and the fact that the elaborate track titles often bear little relation to the subject of the tracks, actually fits really well with the aforementioned fluidity and amorphous nature of the content.

In all, this album is a bit of a challenge. An x-rated challenge, at that, and definitely not for those who like easily digestible disposable pop. As a document to a time of life, a way of life and the underlying fears, desires and issues of those documenting it, it is deeply absorbing and manages to combine brave and original admissions and words with an upbeat, heartening and always immensely listenable musical setting - no mean feat.