Release Date: Mar 3, 2015
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
It’s comforting knowing that regardless of what’s coming down the popular music pike, whatever trends and fleeting incongruences in fashion or style, every year or so of Montreal is going to release a new full-length of mind-bending glam-punk decadence that sort of blows everything else away. On his latest collection, of Montreal maestro Kevin Barnes expands upon the trippy-dippy groove of 2013’s excellent Lousy With Sylvianbriar, sandwiching bold first-wave punk affectations and anthemic fist-pumpers into his alternately glittery/gloomy oeuvre. Barnes isn’t exactly a novice in the subtle art of crafting peppy numbers to somewhat demure lyrical subject matter.
Two years after 2013's Lousy with Sylvianbriar, Kevin Barnes and crew present an album that takes a distinct turn in sound and musical inspiration with the brasher and more patently personal Aureate Gloom. Written in the aftermath of a separation from his wife of over ten years, it was recorded directly to tape with the same central five-piece lineup -- Barnes, JoJo Glidewell, Bennett Lewis, Bob Parins, and Clayton Rychlik (plus Kishi Bashi lending strings and vocals) -- as the excellent, roots rock-influenced Sylvianbriar. On Aureate Gloom, instead of Dylan, Young, and Jagger, it's Iggy, Reed, and Warhol filtered through the unique kaleidoscope of Of Montreal.
Of Montreal frontman and driving creative force Kevin Barnes has described the mood around the birth of the group’s thirteenth album ‘Aureate Gloom’ as, “a golden despondency. ” Laying himself bare after a period of personal turmoil in which he and his wife separated after eleven years together, disorder proves to be fertile creative soil for a talent who was already prolific in the extreme. However, if the context suggests a downtrodden affair it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Prior to writing and recording Aureate Gloom, Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes was in the midst of a divorce with his wife of 11 years. Described as "golden despondency" by Barnes, the sound here reflects this dark, yet increasingly optimistic period in Barnes' life and makes for a highly erratic record from an already eccentric band.The record is in so many ways as contradictory as the oxymoronic album title ("aureate" refers to something made of or having a golden colour), often shifting in message, theme, tempo and tone, all within the same radio-length song. Venturing through various musical landscapes that span from '60s pop to doo-wop to progressive metal, the band stays tight, shifting tones and rhythms effortlessly.
Of Montreal doesn't give a shit about first impressions. Each album (out of a pretty dense discography, no less) is not only impossible to nail down and succinctly summarize, but also completely different in focus and sound than its predecessor. Aureate Gloom, Kevin Barnes' thirteenth album with of Montreal, keeps this tradition going strong. In some ways, it's a worthy sequel to 2013's lousy with sylvianbriar: many of the songs feature the stripped back, American-rock-style instrumentation on that album.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. My iPod had a cracked screen when I was seventeen. I listened for the click tones to alphabetically get to the artists I wanted, a process that I endured for about five months. I always landed on of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer by accident, and would change it immediately because I didn't know the strange sound that kicks that record off.
The two records couldn’t sound more different, but in some ways Of Montreal’s 13th album Aureate Gloom resembles the band’s peak, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Both showcase Kevin Barnes’ singular talent for unspooling his emotions and wrapping them around narcotic musical fantasias, and both feature a woman named Nina. Eight years ago on Hissing Fauna, Nina Aimee Grøttland, aka Nina Twin, was Barnes’ newly reconciled wife as he struggled with an imbalance of brain chemicals, drugs, and love. Eight years later, Barnes and Grøttland have separated, and now he wonders if perhaps the natural order of the world is imbalance.
Recent Of Montreal records have had only one thing in common: they’ve obfuscated Kevin Barnes’ end goal with his band’s music. Sure, it’s possible that this is the wrong way to look at the situation. Maybe there is no set destination, and each record is intended to function as a living and breathing recollection of feelings Barnes, at that specific point in time, wanted to capture.
The last album from of Montreal, 2013’s Lousy With Sylvianbriar, saw band lynchpin Kevin Barnes adopt a new method of working. While he had previously mostly worked alone, putting albums together piece by piece, that record found him working with a band and recording to analogue tape. Aureate Gloom continues in this vein but, while Sylvianbriar was Barnes’ most mellow offering yet, this album is more aggressive and troubled.
Kevin Barnes' formal restlessness is his charm and flaw. It has made Of Montreal an ever-morphing, rarely boring indie-rock standby — but it can also find him riffling through random scraps like Macklemore in a Goodwill superstore. So goes Barnes' latest: Impressive disco-funk-glam couplings (the politically incensed "Bassem Sabry") rush the dance floor alongside Anglophile post-punk and classic-rock fractals (the Kinks-conjuring "Apollyon of Blue Room").
It’s odd to have an Of Montreal album billed as being a return to form, as Aureate Gloom has been. A return to which form, exactly? The form they took when they were a jingle-jangle twee-pop band? Or the form they took as an electro-funk freak troupe? Or more like the twisted Americana of their last record? The idea of a return to form is nonsense. Almost every Of Montreal release for the last ten years has been basically the opposite: a continued resistance to form.
If you were tasked with creating a mix that accurately represents the best of the Kevin Barnes canon, what would you include? Inevitably, plenty of tracks from the of Montreal frontman’s early years, the beautifully shambolic Elephant 6 stuff á la “Tim I Wish You Were Born a Girl” and “Dustin Hoffman Thinks About Eating the Soap”. Then some transitional material — the Satanic Panic in the Attic era, when Barnes began conflating his undying love for ‘60s psych pop with funky bass lines and groove-oriented drum patterns. The last portion of the playlist would be dedicated to Barnes’ strongest overall achievement, 2007’s urgent, colorful dance-rock masterpiece Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? And then that’d likely be it.
We need to talk about Kevin. Ever since 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Kevin Barnes has made a habit of making his personal life the focus of his music with Of Montreal. Barnes bottomed out in 2012 with Paralytic Stalks, another LP directly inspired by a breakdown in his marriage; deftly balancing his wild gift for melody with nods to the avant-garde likes of Penderecki and Stravinski, it’s been given a short shrift by fans, and Barnes himself.
Review Summary: Conventionally unconventional.Give Kevin Barnes this; he’s never been one to make things easy. Given his sizable discography and the vast array of styles he’s traversed over the decades, it’s a minor miracle that there’s barely a hint of repetition among of Montreal’s work. Aureate Gloom continues an unusually focused stretch for the famously prolific artist – 2013’s Lousy with Sylvianbriar brought Barnes back to recording with a full band, lending the proceedings a vitality and an easy confidence that more than made up for the atypically conventional song structures.
Kevin Barns is a madman; this is well documented. From Of Montreal’s obsessions over Dustin Hoffman in their early days (example track title: “Dustin Hoffman Does Not Resist Temptation to Eat the Bathtub”) to the manic progressive pop of their breakout Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Barns has infused a profound insanity into everything in Of Montreal’s massive catalogue. Aureate Gloom isn’t Of Montreal’s weirdest album, but it might be the most baffling.
Of Montreal albums are as much mood pieces as they are music, aural reflections of whatever lightning bolt is currently coursing through Kevin Barnes, the outfit’s charismatic overseer and unabashed over-sharer. Aureate Gloom, the band’s 13th LP in 18 years, is no different, with Barnes himself describing the album not by its sound, but by the state he was in when he wrote it: “a golden despondency.” It’s a fitting phrase, not just for this bleak and tumultuous record, but for the band, who has always pocked its sprawling opuses with spears of cynicism and coins of heavenly light. Here, those pocks take the form of riffs: loud, broad, and heavily distorted.
On their 13th album, Of Montreal shift away from psychedelic prog-pop toward 70s punk and glam rock mixed with early 80s post-punk and new wave influences. It's the kind of revivalist thing that would have seemed too fashionable 15 years ago but is now far enough removed from trends that it just comes across as an honest reflection of founder Kevin Barnes's current interests. What hasn't changed is his habit of cramming too many ideas into a song, a sometimes annoying tendency that pays off surprisingly often.