3.5 out of 5 Stars
In the words of Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes’s own MySpace page, the recording process for his band’s latest disc Skeletal Lamping involved “exploring the dark and gloriously detestable sides of my consciousness.” Though wordy and tinged with typical indie-rock-star pretentious swagger, this key quote encapsulates the core to understanding Of Montreal’s ninth proper studio release. Weird, genre-bending and funkadelic, the album delves further into the utter eccentricities that permeated the band’s preceding album, 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?.
While the band may have benefited from re-exploring the ominous territory heard on such tracks as the nearly-12-minute killer epic “The Past is a Grotesque Animal,” Barnes and Co. have chosen to go in nearly the opposite direction: toying with quick-paced poppy quirkiness and turning away from its darker underbelly. The result is a 15-track-long redux of trippy Hissing Fauna hits like “Gronlandic Edit” and “Labyrinthian Pomp.” Skeletal Lamping is deviously offbeat and peculiar, but for a band whose claim to fame is a Bowie-esque frontman who dons lipstick and fishnets on stage, it works.
Skeletal Lamping pushes the aforementioned Bowie references to the limit, with its wide selection of crooning and falsettos across its many somewhat homogeneous songs. The album’s first single “Id Engager” is one of the disc’s more accessible cuts. The song opens with an all-encompassing scream from Barnes, followed by a series of “ooh-ooh-oohs” and “aahs” to the tune of a persistent bassline. The track plays into the album-wide theme of gender bending, with Barnes screeching in chorus, “I can’t help it if it’s true / Don’t want to be your man / Just want to play with you.”
The more harmonious “Gallery Piece” is dance party heaven, carried by a repetitive programmed beat, reflecting Barnes own self-conscious lyrical repetition: “I want to squeeze your thighs / I want to kiss your eyelids / And corrupt your dreams,” which later gives way to the somewhat more transparent line, “I want to turn you on / I want to make you come / 200 times a day.” Barnes has certainly kept his knack for attracting a listener’s attention, to say the least. The track is one of the album’s better offerings and its blissfully poppy foundation stands in marked contrast to the album’s more experimental endeavors.
The band is most successful when it sticks to its pop-based origins, as heard on the two previously mentioned tracks, though the band’s progression into funk-based elements gives Skeletal Lamping an added edge and it keeps the album from turning into a stale regurgitation of quirky pop hits. “Wicked Wisdom” is a groovy powerhouse, with soundscapes composed of deep bass notes that quickly switch pace from fast to slow. This sharply contrasts the slowed down “St. Exquisite’s Confessions,” an easy-lovin’ hit that features Barnes’ best attempt at a signature Thom Yorke falsetto accompanied by a gospel-like back-up chorus.
The band returns to its more traditional quirky pop foundations with the cutesy “For Our Elegant Caste,” a bass-and-keys-tuned piece that recalls the band’s earlier works from its extensive back-catalogue. Of Montreal is somewhat less successful when it tries its hand at a Beatles-style ballad, as heard on the half-heartedly poetic “Touched Something’s Hollow.” Its members probably realize the same, since the song ends before hitting its second minute.
While Skeletal Lamping doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, this disclaimer shouldn’t dishearten diehard Of Montreal fans. The band’s newest release explores the full scope of contemporary pop music — a high task for any group. With its ninth full-length release the band has solidified its hold as the current torchbearers for the indie pop genre. Given its latest strong showing, Of Montreal isn’t likely to lose any enthusiasts in the process of achieving its vision.