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Ramshackle Mystery Tour: A Guide to Early Childhood Montreal


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Ramshackle Mystery Tour: A Guide to Early Childhood Montreal

By Jude Noel March 21, 2022

Kevin Barnes

Closing out 25 years since the release of their debut album, Of Montreal exists in a constant state of reinvention. Frontman Kevin Barnes, the band’s only consistent member, emerged from the Athens, Georgia-based collective Elephant 6 in the late ’90s, leaning into classic psychedelic pop records and collaborating closely with bands like Neutral Milk Hotel. , Elf Power and The Apples. in Stereo.

While many of the scene’s major bands either disbanded at the turn of the century or continued to adhere tightly to their retro, raucous aesthetic, Of Montreal experienced a meteoric evolution during the 2000s, embracing a complex mix of funk, prog and of synth pop. while trimming recordings at a fast clip. Barnes honed his signature polysyllabic writing style and theatrical presence during the final years of the Bush administration, which sadly makes it easy to leave the record show as Hissing wildlife, are you the destroyer eclipse the group’s excellent early work.

Montreal’s first five years in business, which saw the release of seven full-length albums, showcase Barnes’ ingenious songwriting talent on a smaller (but no less impressive) scale. Drawing on the brassy, ​​stumbling instrumentation of its peers, this debut outing features some of the cutest indie pop music to come out since The Field Mice disbanded, anchored by an undercurrent of mystery. If you’re less familiar with the band’s lo-fi infancy, here’s a guide to the essential works of Early four-track recordings for Aldhils Arboretum.




While this compilation was released in 2001, Early four-track recordings is sort of a prequel to the Of Montreal canon. Primarily recorded at home while Barnes was in high school, the compilation looks back at the band at an embryonic stage, examining the fairytale innocence of 1960s psychedelic pop up close through the kaleidoscopic lens of late ’90s postmodernism. 90.

Even for Barnes, the lyrics on the record are absurd – almost purely decorative – adorning herky-jerky pop guitar jangle with images of anthropomorphic telephones and banana cream cobwebs. The experience can be sickening, yes, but Barnes is so committed to making it work. It helps that its instrumentation is equally eerie, using dissonant jazz chord progressions and an overabundance of drum fills. Although derived from Brian Wilson and John Lennon, Barnes’ demos are unmistakably his own, alluding to the labyrinthine song structures and unconventional arrangements he would explore in greater depth later.

Early four-track recordings shines when Barnes avoids distraction and focuses on the hooks. “Dirty Dustin Hoffman Needs a Bath” and “Dustin Hoffman Thinks about Eating the Soap” (these are unfortunately their real titles) are still among his catchiest songs to date, loaded with perfectly harmonized songs. Ohsand ahs.



Montreal’s 1997 debut album is arguably their most conventional effort. While the nasal quirks of Barnes’ early demos are still present, they’re more easily integrated into his indie pop vision, toned down by intense vintage compression and grounded by more down-to-earth lyricism. cherry bark is not as conceptual as the work he would later produce, but it is deeply obsessed with love in all its forms. Barnes imagines living in a polygamous complex on “Don’t Ask Me To Explain,” plays with gender identity on “Tim I Wish You Were Born a Girl” and dabbles in magical realism with “Everything Disappears When You Come Around “.

“Usually I try to write songs that will feel good or get something out of my chest,” he said. Flagpole Magazine in 1997. “Even though people might think the lyrics are corny, I’ve always preferred music from the 60s. It was a time when people were writing really innocent songs.

Despite its fluffy exterior, cherry bark isn’t without a few experimental flourishes, like the buzzing kazoo on “I Can’t Stop Your Memory” or the twanging sitar on “In Dreams I Dance with You.” Like the Beatles Revolver, this record dips its toe into the avant-garde while keeping the other foot firmly planted in the realm of pop. If you’re unfamiliar with Barnes’ work, this is the best place to start.



bedside drama is a bittersweet descent of Cherry skin high sugar. His songs are sparse, often eschewing electric guitar for acoustic chords and the occasional keyboard splash. Despite its soft and cuddly exterior, this record contains some of Barnes’ darker lyrics.

“All the demons in the world couldn’t imagine a more painful thing to be in love with someone who doesn’t love you back,” Barnes sings on “The Hollow Room,” surrounded by adorable vocal harmonies and a clarinet. Following the rise and fall of a fictional couple’s romance, the record uses its intimacy to lure the listener in, making its heartbreaking turn all the more real.



Conceived as a short story collection of surreal character sketches, The gay parade is a jubilant affair. Its credits feature a veritable Wrecking Crew of Elephant 6 affiliates, supporting Barnes’ vaudevillian tales with any instrument that has crossed its path, from Julian Koster’s singing saw to the clank of typewriter keys. The band even sampled a particularly loud clothes dryer to mimic the march of the titular parade.

The Beach Boys have always been a major influence on Of Montreal, but The gay parade plays as a full-fledged homage to their 1967 album Smiling smile. “A Neat Little Domestic Life” is unfiltered Wilsonian camp, backed by cartoonish a cappella vocals and ecstatic for such mundane tasks as vacuuming the carpet. “Nickee Coco and the Invisible Tree,” with its linear structure and rock ‘n’ roll orchestral production, could be a spiritual successor to “Heroes and Villains,” indulging its creators’ every whim to illustrate its lysergic story. By the time you’ve reached the album’s spoken word outro, you might be digging through your pockets for a ticket stub—The gay parade feels like falling asleep at the theater, your unconscious mind giving half meaning to its muffled surroundings.



Without the liner notes in hand, it would be hard to guess that Horse and elephant restaurant, released in 2000, was a compilation of Japanese bonus tracks and rarities swept from the cutting room floor. Save for a few amusing detours into Dadaist radio play and Tin Pan Alley pop, the record is surprisingly personal for Barnes’ debut catalog. The opener “A Celebration of H. Hare” celebrates the collaborative relationship between Barnes and his brother David, who provides artwork for most of the band’s discography.

“Together we do something amazing,” he sings. “All these things I do with you give meaning to my life.”

“True Friends Don’t Want To Do Stuff Like This,” backed by shouted horns and refrains, is a reflection on Barnes’ own obsession with productivity, “reading [his] his own biography every night” as he organizes the album’s song lists. Despite its introspective overtones, there are still plenty of eccentricities sprinkled throughout. Horse and elephant restaurant, like a miniature audiobook about baby spiders and an indie pop sequel that imagines a miraculous resurrection at Barnes’ funeral. Audio fidelity and genre vary widely throughout the disc; it’s a fun purse to become emotionally attached to with every listen.



Like The gay parade? Poppy asleep in the poppies takes its progressive, story-driven style to even greater extremes, weaving each of its 22 psych-pop vignettes into a grand fantasy tale about dreams. Patchwork songs like “Rose Robert,” which interrupts a frenzied country-folk tune with frenzied interludes of chamber music, foreshadow the fractured funk design of later records like Skeleton lamp.

“I really like the freedom you have when you work at this level,” Barnes said of Poppy in a 2008 interview with Pastry“where a song can contain six different key changes and all these tempo changes, and it doesn’t matter if it makes sense.”

It’s the most messy of Barnes’ early works, and all of his great experiments, like the 20-minute piano piece “Hopeless Opus,” don’t pay off. That’s kind of the point, though. Poppy is so seductive it’s creepy at times, holding twee pops toward a funhouse mirror until it’s distorted beyond recognition. “Let’s Do It All First Time Forever” is the album’s standout single, an oasis of sincerity amid high conceptual chaos.



2002 Aldhils Arboretum concludes the first chapter of Barnes’ career. It’s a neat throwback to the quirky, singles-centric ethos of Early four-track recordings, keeping his songs brief and focused. Songs like “Jennifer Louise” and “Pancakes for One” cut the typical lavish arrangements of Of Montreal down to guitar, drums and organ, reminiscent of the sound of the Kinks in their heyday. Although not a reference in their catalog, Aldhil was a necessary reinvention for the band, laying the groundwork for tight songwriting for 2004’s Satanic panic in the attic, enhanced by electronic production and dripping with a newfound cynicism. Closer “Death Dance of Omipapas and Sons for You,” acid-washed by a phaser effect and shimmering double-track guitars, bridges the gap between eras, mutating the sound of Of Montreal in real time.