Monday, October 6, 2008

Review: Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping (* * * )

This album is one wild ride. I thought I had been prepared; I read some early reviews, heard the lead single "Id Engager," and familiarized myself with Of Montreal's back catalog (some of it, anyway). But I knew I was in over my head with openers "Nonpareil of Favor" and "Wicked Wisdom," eleven minutes of song clips strung together seemingly at random and without any consideration of format or transition. It left my head spinning and my eyes crossed, and I still had 45 minutes to go. Skeletal Lamping is fascinating, frustrating, and completely unlike anything I've ever experienced.

Skeletal Lamping is brimming with enough ideas to fill almost a career's worth of albums. It's especially impressive given the short time between records, as Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer was released just last year. At 15 tracks and just under an hour running time, Of Montreal explore every imaginable facet of funk/disco pop music with plenty of flair and bravado. Front man Kevin Barnes' performs vocal acrobatics (often in falsetto) over the complex musical arrangements featuring generous helpings of bright synths and slinky guitars. It's catchy and melodic at every turn, but getting used to the frequently jarring transitions between and within each track takes some time. While it's fun to be treated to so many exciting musical experiments, the trip does get wearying after 30 minutes.

If the musical eccentricities weren't enough, the lyrics blast the album even further from anything resembling normalcy. Apparently Barnes has an alternate persona that stars in much of Skeletal Lamping, a black she-male named Georgie Fruit (seriously). While the idea is creepy, the lyrics that Barnes comes up with to describe his alter ego are even creepier. The album is full of sexually explicit and sometimes disturbing fantasies and (probably) realities. I'll spare you the details, but believe me when I tell you it's more than a little disconcerting. Supposedly Barnes wrote much of the album as a way to exorcise and explain his demons. Next time I recommend a journal...or maybe a psychiatrist. I just don't think I need to be involved.

This is music for people who like to take a bite out of everything at the buffet table, but those who like to savor an entire steak might want to find something a bit more conventional. Skeletal Lamping is certainly unique and in some ways brilliant, but the album proves to be too much to digest all in one sitting and too scattered to be effective in smaller doses.

Favorite Tracks: "An Eluardian Instance," "Gallery Piece," "Id Engager"