Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Montreal
Skeletal Lamping
Rating: Too much pork and earmarks.

This being an election season the NQL Editorial Board decided the best way to deal with the issue at hand would be a debate. In this review, Alex and Brian get together and square off, track-by-track on the merits and pitfalls of Skeletal Lamping, the latest offering from Of Montreal. We’ll start with a quick opening statement from each.

Alex Crisafulli: I love Of Montreal. I love the theatrics, I laugh at the gender bending, and most importantly, I enjoy their records. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was one of my favorite records from last year. And anytime I’m throwing a party, Of Montreal is a main-stay in my stereo. Who feels like a steak!

Brian Herrmann: I intensely dislike Of Montreal because their outward displays of otherness play like demands for attention, a demand I am conditioned to reject. Moreover, I am of the opinion that a band's music should be attention-getting enough on its own: It's one thing to have a confrontational aesthetic, but quite another to demand the confrontation (make no mistake: on-stage nudity demands confrontation). Any theatricality should add to your appeal, not detract from it.

Alex: Alright, let’s do this. [starts the record]

Alex: I feel Skeletal Lamping starts pretty strong with "Nonpareil of Favor." It's a good Of Montreal song, with some dips, and grooves, and Rudy Ray Moores (r.i.p.).

Brian: Yeah, it starts off so promising, even the canned beat. Barnes's voice flows pretty seamlessly between regular and falsetto, but then we get, "so I'm callin' your ass up at like 3 in the morning," and the jammed-down-your-throat heavy distorto-pounding dissonance. No thanks. At 2:30, I'm already done listening to a 6-minute song.

Alex: I’ll have to agree with you there. I'm not positive what I think of the clangy jam-out at the end.

Brian: And the vocal outro does very little for me--too reminiscent of that terrible vocal turn, the repeated ad-infiniutm 'oo-oo' on Hissing Fauna's “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal.”

Alex: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you love that "Grotesque" song, no?

Brian: You're corrected. I think it's a grotesque animal.

Alex: Much like Kevin Barnes. I wonder how long an Of Montreal album would be if you took out all the unnecessary filler that is concedingly in so many tracks. 20 minutes?

Brian: Yeah, probably an EP length--15-25 minutes. Okay, here we go, track 2 “Wicked Wisdom.” This song just seems silly, and totally arbitrary stylistically, even for a song. Like Barnes forces these shifts because why the fuck not, that's why.

Alex: I disagree, I like the immediate funk-punch at the beginning.

Brian: I call it faux-funk, a bi white boy's idea of funk and rap. Fucking black she-males shouldn't rap.

Alex: Says you. Although lyrically I think he needs to clean it up. I was going to give this album to my 3-year-old nephew for Christmas had it not been for the uncalled for cursing in this track.

Brian: You wouldn't get the cover art past your brother. Or his wife.

Alex: You’re probably right, but let’s give credit where credit is due. That’s some great album art. You don't have to get too far into this album to figure out that the band is doing something different from their last couple releases. But again, this song starts off very promising and then just frustrates the hell out of me. What is Barnes doing with his vocals? Is he singing? Is he talking? And is he doing either in English?

Brian: Again, we agree. Halfway through, I've lost interest, despite the Queen shout-out. I wish Barnes would learn how to self-edit, because the chorus melody is incredible.

Alex: I missed the Queen shout-out. Please fill me in.

Brian: [singing] "When we get together, we are the champions," or some such.

Alex: Huh. I took that as a Grease shout-out. And you have a lovely voice.

Brian: Thanks. But I don’t think it matters. What does matter is there are way too many vocal tracks, too. I can hear 5 or 6.

Alex: I hate to say this, but damn this song sucks. It’s almost making me visibly angry.

Brian: I thought that was blood coming out your ear. Track 3, “For Our Elegant Caste.” I hate...HATE...this song. And it's nothing to do with its extreme sexuality. I can't. I don't know. I just can't describe. Shit.

Alex: See, I disagree, I kind of like it. At least the beginning. He's into soft-core, but polite enough to give warning that he likes it both ways. Who says chivalry is dead?

Brian: Each of these songs is a microcosmic identity crisis. One thing I give Barnes big ups for: wordplay. I love what he does with language, even when it doesn't make sense he makes it sound interesting with the rhythms and polysyllabic words he chooses.

Alex: I couldn’t agree more. But you know, this song is just another example as to why this album bothers me. I like dramatic musical shifts in mid song, but these do it with no rhyme or reason. It's a jumbled mess, but for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes a jumbled mess can be defended, I don't think this is one of those times. Sadly.

Brian: Yeah, it's like he had 3 or 4 times as many songs as he needed, tracked all of them and put them into a computer, and toggled between different tracks and said "I'll call this one 'For Our Elegant Caste.'" “Touched Something's Hollow” (track 4) is a nice come-down, but ultimately nothing more.

Alex: I'm right with you on that one. A good time to exhale. The lyrics are pretty personal though. I like them, especially when he says, "Why am I so damaged?..."

Brian: Track 5, “An Eludarian Instance.”

Alex: I'm not going to lie, I like the horns. Brian, you're the English guy...are these real words?

Brian: No. Eluardian, Triphallus, Mingusings: Not words. But “An Eluardian Instance” is how I wish the rest of the album was: sensible, hooky, complex. Easily a high point.

Alex: I agree, but we're through five songs and I feel like I've heard 20. It's like that time on The Muppet Babies when the gang tried to get a song submitted on the radio and they all wrote songs, but then Animal screwed up the tape and when it was put back together it was just one giant medley of all their stuff. Pretty good episode.

Brian: I'll have to YouTube that shit. And did he just say, "Don't you pimp out my heart."? Nice.

Alex: Well, it's no coincidence that we like this song and it recalls their former albums more than any other on the album. At least, to me. Although here comes another completely onerous interlude/shift towards the end of the song.

Brian: But for once, I really like it. “Gallery Piece” (track 6) is surprisingly tolerable as well. Naked desire, man, pure lust.

Alex: Huh? Well, whatever the case, this is a song I can get behind. And so should DJ's. This is a very good club song. At least the first minute is. Some ridiculous lyrics, too. "I want to sell you out/expose your flaws." "I want to make you come/200 times a day."

Brian: Yeah, it's pretty great. High point #2. And not surprisingly, it's pretty by-the-numbers.

Alex: And it sure was nice of the band to tone down all the fun at the 1:30 mark and ruin the song. Thanks, guys! But they do come back to their senses at around 2:30, if only for a second or two. Here comes “Women’s Studies Victims” (track 7). Whoever green-lighted this song probably gave the go-ahead for every Eddie Murphy movie made in the last 10 years. Horrible song.

Brian: I feel like this song belongs in a student film.

Alex: Would this student film be called Norbit?

Brian: Norbit 2: Rebirth of the Drool. And if I could write our dear friend Kevin a letter, it would read like this:

Dear Kevin Barnes,

You are not a rapper. Please. Just stop.

Your friend,

Brian Herrmann

Alex: Well, forget Outback Steakhouse. I don't think they could sell this garbage to Little Caesars.

Brian: Well, if they do, Caesars should change their slogan to 'Stop it! Stop it!'

Alex: [laughing] Alright Kevin and Co., let’s pick it up with "St. Exquisite's Confessions" (track 8). I like the feel of the beginning of this song. Kind of a very smooth '70's-ish black-exploitation film-feel. And did Barnes just say he was sick of sucking dicks or something? Now I have heard of everything.

Brian: 'Sucking the dick of this cruel, cruel city', I think was the line. Tired of living by other people's norms. Or something. I really like the idea behind this song: someone fed up trying to be what he knows he's not, "kicking down the doors" and being true to himself. Too bad it feels put on and disingenuous.

Alex: I kind of disagree. If there's one song where I really enjoy the lyrics and feel it, it's this one. It has a nice confessional tone to it. And I believe him. I think his security is a facade that has always been masked by outrageousness.

Brian: I can dig it. But we can't assume the songs are autobiographical.

Alex: Very true. Time for "Triphallus, to Punctuate!" (track 9). I don't even know what I think of this track. I don't like it, but I don't dislike it. I feel absolutely nothing for it. I could listen to it while also watching some Bill Kurtis show which I think might be a bigger insult to Of Montreal than saying you hate one of their songs. It's boring. And they've been a lot of things, but never boring.

Brian: Believe it or not, I fucking love this song. The one point on the album where everything coheres and just kicks tons of ass. The interludes, the weird vocals, the insanely catchy chorus.

Alex: Interesting. It does little to nothing for me. I think part of the reason is by the time it rears its head, I've already lost interest in the album. And it's just another glaring example of the inconsistent and fluctuating musical tendencies.

Brian: Oh, come on! "I was your booster, babe, back when no one else cared." He should care now, but he doesn't give a fuck! Awesome!

Alex: Agree to disagree. "And I've Seen a Bloody Shadow" (track 10). This song represents my main complaint with the now I feel like I have already heard this song three times.

Brian: See, I love the seamlessness between “Triphallus” and “Bloody Shadow,” another great tune. Listen to what he’s saying: "How can I function, man, in the face of all this mind is exploding with sappy murders; they really poison my sexuality."

Alex: Yeah, but you could completely mix up the track order and it wouldn't make one iota of difference in my mind. The flow seems really flat and confusing.

Brian: Fine. Moving on. “Plastis Wafer” (track 11). Another logjam!

Alex: They really have cornered the market on androgyny and sexuality, I will give them that. Pleasure puss? Whatever.

Brian: Classic and nasty line: "I want to make you ejaculate until it's no longer fun."

Alex: Fun for who?

Brian: Fun for the dude ejaculating, suggesting the line between pleasure and pain, and dominant/submissive. Maybe. Seems like a power-play kind of statement, especially when considered alongside the narrator's desire to "be inside you" or whatever he says.

Alex: I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. But back on topic, while listening to this record, I just want to scream "try harder!" There are good songs in here somewhere, but they never morph into the butterfly. Instead, we just get slugs trudging along and I'm reaching for the salt.

Brian: I have another letter for Kevin:

Dear Kevin Barnes,

Panda Bear called and he wants his ideas back.

Your friend,

Brian Herrmann

p.s. Did “Plastis Wafer” really need to be 7 minutes long?

Alex: I agree. The last three minutes of this song are just a big, damn waste of time. Thankfully, it is over. Here we got "Death Isn't a Parallel Move" (track 12).

Brian: Dude, he's just trying to get healthy.

Alex: I kind of dig what they're serving up here at the beginning. "I feel just like a ghost..." And of course it tapers off into something completely boring.

Brian: This song is like fakey-fake Syd Barrett bullshit.

Alex: Yeah, well you can't fake "crazy." The end of that song left me speechless but not in a good way. Time for "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants" (track 13).

Brian: Same theme, I keep waiting for a payoff, but it never comes.

Alex: I have been bored with this record for the last 15 minutes. I swear I'm not trying to be overly negative. You know me, I love this band. But for the life of me I can't get into this record. I do love the Halo shout-out though. This song has some great lyrics. And Barnes is no fool, maybe he made the music a bit more morose on purpose to focus on the lyrics. Right? Yeah, probably not.

Brian: I agree about the lyrics--they're spot-on--but that doesn't excuse the totally static music. Morose still has ups and downs. For example, The Smiths, The Cure, The Clientele.

Alex: I haven't felt this way since I watched Beverly Hills Cop III.

Brian: "Mingusings" (track 14).

Alex: I think what you just said might be the missing ingredient with this record: sincerity. Robert Smith doesn't have to try too hard to come off as sincere. I feel like Barnes always feels like he has to compensate for something which leads to outrageous stage shows--which I love, by the way--but it makes a lot of people overlook the fact that Of Montreal has put out some great records.

Brian: I agree totally with this. It's my main hang-up with the band. I said as much in my year-end comments last year. The theatricality outweighs anything they'll ever do musically. What was it Teddy Roosevelt said? Walk softly and never wear a fucking lobster suit?

Alex: [laughs] I will defend the band this way. When people who don't know much about them see them live, they enjoy what they see but probably 9 times out of 10 come to the conclusion that they are a one-trick pony. All style no substance. But that's not true. Just like it isn't true with a band like Les Savy Fav. Like I said, they have put out some great records, this just isn't one of them.

Brian: This is probably my second-favorite song on the album. Reminds me, thematically, of Dismemberment Plan's "The Jitters" when Barnes says "want to fire my friends and start over again." It equates to Travis Morrison's "I realized my friends' true intentions, cut all ties."

Alex: Last track. “Id Engager.” Finally. And at least they're consistent. Nothing notable with this closer.

Brian: Why did they make this the closer, and the first single? I admit, it's impossible for me to pay even half-attention at this point. It's just too much, like a turducken.

Alex: Want to know when I first got suspicious of this record? And this might be poor form to say, but it was before I even heard it. But the album leaked a long time ago, and any time a band with the stature of an Of Montreal has a new album drop it should be a big deal. But the record leaked, and I didn't hear much buzz about it. And know we know why. Or at least, now I think I know why.

Brian: And this thing leaked a long time ago, like months ago.

Alex: Right, and no one really cares anymore. It's time has come and gone and it just hit the shelves. Not good. Another telling thing about this record. I was listening to it while cleaning the other day and about half-way through I almost forgot it was on, and then it ended and The Sunlandic Twins popped up immediately next on my iTunes and I immediately spruced up with the first track "Requiem." It was an instant, “Oh yeah, this is what a good song sounds like” sort of thing.

Brian: And I stick by my personal assessment that Of Montreal is vastly overrated. Their pomposity overwhelms everything else. And I say this as a big fan of Queen and Bowie and Roxy Music. This album will win them no fans, and probably alienate their base a little bit.

Alex: Pomposity is fine, even over the top pomposity, when you can back it up. I feel like their previous few records back it up. This one waves the white flag pretty early and the songs will have to be masked by the pomposity, when usually it’s the other way around. The songs will be the 600 lb. gorilla in the room, instead of Kevin Barnes’s little train conductor hat and thong. Any final thoughts, Brian?

Brian: I need to listen to The Nerves or something. Clear my head.

Alex: I agree. I think I’m gonna watch season 3 of Muppet Babies. I still love you Of Montreal, just not today.

Conclusion: There you have it, proof that healthy talks surrounding common interests nurture positive outcomes. In the spirit of bipartisanship, two seemingly opposed factions reached across the aisle and achieved consensus. NQL: Representative democracy in miniature. Don’t forget to vote!


lil' elF said...

speaking of too much pork, who wrote this?

Matt said...

After your introductory comments, I now understand your hatred towards Daft Punk, My Morning Jacket, Devo and Stomp.

Brian said...


I quite like both Daft Punk and MMJ. Wearing a robot costume or being a hippie is not the same as the Of Montreal aesthetic, which is indiscernible.


A team of monkeys hammering away at keyboards. Amazing.


lil' elF said...

Who are Brian and Alex? That was rheatorical. I think they hate this album as much as I do. I did not read your debate until now. It just looked so long to read about about an album that I felt fell way short of my expectations. "This sucks" would have satisfied my needs.
Speaking of sucking, anyone got a replacement transmission for an '82 Chevette?

lil' elF said...

And by the way, you can address me as 'lil elf, Herrmann. Don't make me drive my goddamn Chevette all the way to Bloomington and romp all over your "newly" constructed walls.

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