Wednesday, June 24, 2009

2008-10-28 - The Toronto Star

Front man Kevin Barnes says fans are `befuddled' by ideas in his latest CD

"For some reason, laziness is celebrated in music where it's not really celebrated in other art forms. Most pop songs are just riddled with laziness."

Some might bristle at Kevin Barnes's reductionist assessment of pop songwriting's verse/chorus/verse template, but at least the Of Montreal front man and increasingly proficient professional provocateur is backing those words up with the wildest musical ride he's ever put to tape on his latest disc, Skeletal Lamping.

The indie band will be back in Toronto tonight at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Exhibition Place.

A survey of the Of Montreal catalogue – from the freaky lysergic folk-pop of Cherry Peel and The Gay Parade to the glammed-out electro-rock of The Sunlandic Twins and last year's stunning Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? – marks Barnes as an artist entirely uncomfortable with standing still between albums.

Skeletal Lamping, though, sounds like a manic tour of the many musical channels and personalities simultaneously braying away inside his head. Songs change their identities on a minute-by-minute basis, splicing together every single style and reference point you have time to come up with – pop, punk, funk, folk, prog, T. Rex, Queen, Prince, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Talking Heads ... it's useless to try to describe what's going on here – into a kaleidoscopic blur that must pack about 50 song snippets into 15 only arbitrarily separated tracks.

"I just wanted to make a record that was completely unpredictable and that was just saturated with ideas and doing crazy genre-hopping constantly, and changing tempos and changing keys and styles. A totally mad, schizophrenic, mesmeric experience. With a heart, if possible," Barnes said with a laugh, on the phone from his home base in Athens, Ga.

"I'm always sort of experimenting with arrangements and song structure but, on this one, I wanted to take it even further. Most people just take a section or a verse and repeat it, for no real reason other than that's what you do: you repeat the verse, you repeat the chorus, you might change the lyrics slightly here. There's just so much laziness. And I wanted to be as creative as possible, to fill every second with new inspiration."

Skeletal Lamping is, by Barnes's admission, "probably the most selfish record I've ever made," and one made with little regard for the growing audience that very nearly led Of Montreal to a mainstream breakthrough with Hissing Fauna.

It speaks to Barnes's own well-honed pop-songwriting chops that he could lure several hundred thousand record buyers to a topsy-turvy album inspired by his own battle with chemical depression and conducted, in part, under the guise of a black, transsexual funk singer named Georgie Fruit. But Barnes – who's recorded the past few Of Montreal albums on his own – has an interest in music as art, and he figured he could take it farther.

"I know people don't want this record, really – I can tell by most of the reviews," he said. "Everyone seems so befuddled. Some people are actually pissed off. `How dare he make this record? Obviously, he can write pop songs. Why is he doing this?' It's absurd, the reaction, when people are given something that is complicated and unconventional and exceptional. They don't even know what to think of it."

Of Montreal's stage show has evolved over time into a crazy-quilt "avant-garde play" befitting the music, where giant roller skates, gallows, coffins filled with shaving cream and the odd minotaur have been known to make an appearance. Barnes even conducted most of a performance in Las Vegas last year in the nude. That's commitment to a bit.

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