April 05, 2004

Of Montreal "Satanic Panic in the Attic"

Friday, March 18 1:00 a.m. Friends (208 E 6th St)

Okay, folks. This is just a little bit complicated. This review is going to have two parts. Part I is going to be for the people who went to see A Pollinaire Rave (the touring surreal comedy musical that Kevin Barnes performed with his girlfriend, Nina, and his brother, David) and got the tour CD. That just happened to contain 7 demo songs Of Montreal was working on for their next album. Part II is just the general overview that everyone can read and appreciate. Got it? Good. Here we go...

Part I

So, did you have a good time seeing A Pollinaire Rave? Did you understand it? Well, I certainly did it. I think you would have had a better time coping with it if you just thought of it as the result of a project to create a comedy musical in the spirit of the surrealist films of Luis Bunuel. Yay for college film courses!

Anyway, we all got the CD, and were kind of baffled because it came with no tracklisting. Well, I actually did something about it. The next time Of Montreal came to town, I asked Kevin for song titles, and he said that even though they didn't really have any titles for the songs since they weren't quite set in stone, he wrote down working titles for me. I have no idea if he was kidding about them or not because they're really quite ridiculous, but I assure you he really did give me these song titles. You'll see what I mean because I'm about to give you the tracklisting and tell you of the fate of each song.

So, here's the track-by-track:

1. "the fading and frozen phallus in the eye of a young brute" (also known as "Fable of the Bull" to some people)--Became "How Lester Lost His Wife". The only song that was significantly changed (and changed for the worse, I might add) on the album.

2. "whatever happened to the breath of tom the sandwidth?"--Became "Chrissy Kiss the Corpse".

3. "nightmare onanism"--Became "City Bird".

4. "gladiator chestsex and the collision"--Became "Erroneous Escape into Erik Eckles".

5. "shut the orb lady!"--Didn't make it on the album, but was released unchanged as a b-side and compilation track with the title, "Everything About Her Is Wrong".

6. "wednesday's foam on tuesday again?"--Didn't make the cut at all. I don't know if it ended up anywhere else. I actually think this was a good song, and if it were up to me to discard one song from the EP and have it never see the light of day, I would have chosen "Erroneous Escape".

7. "yes, the bird may remember being hoofed" (demo version also released as "Sad Love" on Excellent Online's "Flirt" compilation)--Became "Eros' Entropic Tundra".

Well, I guess there's probably one question on your mind, and the answer to it is, "No, I'm not shitting you." For the second time, I maintain that those are the titles that Kevin wrote down. I'm really not doing the same sort of pretentious bullshitting that Pitchfork does in their reviews to make them more creative.Anyway, the songs that did make the album weren't really changed, except for "How Lester Lost His Wife". The other songs just sound like they were re-recorded with a higher quality and just a little more fleshed out.

As for "How Lester Lost His Wife", the basic structure and lyrics are the same, but they made a change that I disagree with. If you remember the original version, it was the hardest rocking song on the EP (and of Of Montreal's entire career). For the chorus (or the closest thing to a chorus in the song), they played this heavy hard rock riff, but then as a contrast, they would play a different, non-distorted riff as an interlude and belt out and enthusiastic, high-pitched "Ahhhhh!" and then repeat the two riffs again. Well, they took out the "Ahhhhhh!". I loved that "Ahhhhhh!". Actually, it's still there. What they did was not play the guitar during the interlude, and for the first interlude, (where the "Ahhhhhh!" should be), they put either a slide guitar or spaced out vocals through a delay pedal, depending on what part of the song it was. For the second interlude, they replaced the guitar with a toy piano playing the riff the guitar would have played, which actually is an improvement. I don't know, I miss the "Ahhhhhh!" and thought it was more fun. You'd understand if you heard the original. However, I think anyone who hasn't heard the original version would love the album version, and I love everything else about the album version of the song and consider it one of my favorites on the new CD.

Anyway, the songs otherwise survived the journey between demo and album version intact and improved.

Now that I've indulged all the dedicated Of Montreal fans, it's time to service everyone else...

Part II

Okay, everyone. I hope you didn't read Part I if you don't have the A Pollinaire Rave tour EP because you'd be totally confused right now...

So, here we have the first post-Kindercore album from Of Montreal. For those of you who don't know, Of Montreal are the kings and queen of whimsical surrealness (although they can perfectly straightforward when they want to be). They're not immediately accessible because their lyrics can be quite ridiculous at times, and some people think their music sounds literally "gay" (in the homosexual way), but they'll inevitably win over anyone who appreciate the Beach Boys, Beatles, and '60s psychedelia. By the way, they're also one of those Elephant Six bands. If you don't know what that means, it's basically a collective of people whose bands sound quite similar and play on each other's records. (For those who do know, I want to make it clear that there isn't anything really Satanic about the album at all. I really don't know why it has that title.)

Like their last album, Aldhils Arboretum, it's a group of singles and not a concept album like most of their earlier works. Their music retains the same lyrical tone and whimsy of past releases, but Satanic Panic actually marks something of a musical evolution. It sounds like Of Montreal's production values have increased, and you can hear more influences in their music than the obvious '60s icons worshipped by the Elephant Sixers. On this album, you can catch some '80s new wave, '70s hard rock and funk, and a little bit of Motown.

Maybe you remember Pitchfork saying a while back that this album would sound more electronic than their past releases. It's true, but not as true as you think. Only a couple songs sound blatantly electronic. First, you have the opener, the new wave-tinged "Disconnect the Dots". It's so electronic and different from anything else Of Montreal has ever done, it's surprising that it wasn't done as a side project. Then, you have the second track, "Lysergic Bliss". It starts out with an intro of droning, psychedelic guitar and tom hits that boom like cannons and evolves into a straightforward '60s-influenced rock song. Then, the song cuts out, and suddenly, an a cappella, gospel-ish choir of voices singing "Ba Da Da" come in, followed by a techno beat, Rhodes piano riff, and flute sounds that seem like they were pulled straight from the newest I am the World Trade Center record.

(Hi there! Mundane Sounds editor Joseph speaking, and while I agree with my young writer's perspective of this song, I'd like to interrupt right here and state that I prefer to say that "Lysergic Bliss"--one of the best songs of 2004, in my opinion--starts out with the Grateful Dead, unexpectedly goes all Beach Boys and then just as unexpectedly launches into Santana, but that's just me. Back to your regular reviewer commentary.)

Certainly, their songwriting skills are pushing new limits. There's also "Rapture Rapes the Muses", which I didn't really notice was electronic until I listened closely and heard they were playing synths instead of guitars. Otherwise, it sounds like a normal Of Montreal song. Finally, there are the last few seconds of "My British Tour Diary". They just tacked those on at the end to parody "the most truly repellent techno music ever made" as mentioned in the song. It's really quite funny.

But that's all that's electronic about the album. Just two and four-twelfths songs.

Most everything else sounds like the regular '60s-influenced rock, with a few great exceptions. One of them is "How Lester Lost His Wife", which is the most moshworthy song Of Montreal has ever done. Distorted hard rock guitars alternate with toy pianos to create one of the most fun and interesting musical experiences Of Montreal has ever created. You've also got "Vegan in Furs", which has some vocals that sound quite like Motown R & B.

Lyrics? Well, the more surreal stuff I'd need a lyrics sheet to fully comprehend, but they've got some great straightforward ones. "Eros' Entropic Tundra" is sung from the point of view of an unhappy soul who sees happy couples in the park but all he ever gets is "sad love". On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's "Your Magic Is Working", about a cynic who turns into a hopeless romantic whenever the object of his desire is near. "My British Tour Diary" is just what the title implies, but it should be noted that this account of their travels in Britain is less than flattering, with singer Kevin Barnes going as far to say that he doesn't "give a shit about the queen". I also like the poignant "Climb the Ladder", a very poetic song about finding solace in a relationship. "When I'm caught in a net and I haven't a clue, all I've got to do is climb a ladder to you... When there's ghosts in my curtain, everything is askew, all I've got to do is climb a ladder to you... All of these faces are crowding around me, mouths open wide to devour, but they have no impact. no, I do not cower knowing I'm safe in your tower." Those words sound even better when Kevin sings them.

So, let's just get to the point. You really should buy this album. If you're an Of Montreal fan, you'll appreciate the significant progression that Of Montreal has made since their last album. If you're not a fan, it seems to me like this would be a great starting point. It sounds like it may actually win Of Montreal some new fans (if they get enough exposure).

Seriously, this might be my favorite Of Montreal album yet.

--Eric Wolf

Band website: http://www.ofmontreal.net
Label website: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com

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