Daughter of Cloud
Reviewed by Kent Manthie
Of Montreal, coming on the heels of their recently released Paralytic Stalks, has just come out with Daughter of Cloud, a 17-song mélange of superb outtakes, extras and whatnot, from the same sessions. This shows that Kevin Barnes & Co. have been working madly, writing, recording and then sitting on a goldmine of a wonderful and unique cosmic radiance that harkens back to disco, but jams it with 20,000 volts of juice that continue the brilliance that they’ve been bringing to life for the past 10+ years. Over the course of their great arc of genius, since 2005’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing all their subsequent releases. While Satanic Panic… was a lysergic pop sensation, cute and with a kitschy charm all its own, that still didn’t prepare me for the future– the next release, 2007’s Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer? was a blast – a pleasant surprise that took unexpected twists and turns and really made me sit up and take notice. This was especially poignant at a time when I was going through about 20 CDs a week or so, many of which were mediocre at best, some good, some bad, but very little of it was outstandingly awesome – or conversely, considerably awful – enough for a passionate review.
But I wasn’t prepared for what came next: 2008’s Skeletal Lamping. A genius release of immense proportions, I was dazzled by the complexity, captivated by its unique, androgynous unfettered sexuality. When I received Skeletal Lamping, my mind was, at first, focused on it with my reviewer’s hat on, being objective, listening closely to try and get inside the mind of Kevin Barnes, who writes all the songs and is the main man of this Athens, GA-based band. I had to go through it at least twice in order to not miss anything and to revisit what I may have missed or misinterpreted. After finishing the review, however, its sustained flying of the freak flag had so blown my mind, I put it on my Windows Media Player, where it lives a nice life now and comes out often to be a part of my MP3 lineup. Listening to Skeletal Lamping was something that I did quite often for the first few months, not that it’s now just sitting there, taking up space – I still listen to it whenever I feel the urge to tune in and drop out. One thing that adds an ethereal mystique to Skeletal Lamping was the way the songs melt into each other; the songs have a tactile complexity which doesn’t let up and morph into one another, making it difficult to recognize where one ends and the next begins, making it necessary for one to listen to all 15 songs in one sitting, for example, I can’t think of picking out one particular song to listen to, disembodied, as it were, from the rest of the album, although, “Women’s Studies Victims” and “Beware Our Nubile Miscreants” are both worth mentioning as blissful examples of Kevin Barnes’s talented songwriting style. Skeletal Lamping is a carousel ride on acid that knocked me out and threw me down a rabbithole that upended my top-heavy, ennui-filled life and after a whirligig of a ride I was spit out the other side and sent back to society, awakening as if from a dream. Look out for “Feminine Effects” as well; you’ll be, well, interested, in some way, I’m sure, by the country influences that show up, as with the pedal steel guitar you hear, playing in the background. They end Daughter of Cloud with a beautiful, genuine version of “Expecting to Fly”, the Neil Young classic.
The cover of an old Neil Young song by of Montreal just proves once again that Neil, ever the renaissance man, has appealed to three generations of musicians and music-lovers. His songs constitute a self-made genre, one all his own that has snaked through the years all over the place, not necessarily changing with the wind, a la the Rolling Stones, but rather, setting down a style, unique, all his own, that just happens to never let itself be stuck in a bygone era. He may be aging a bit and he’s still making music, but, unlike a lot of his peers from that era, he is not what you’d call a “dinosaur”, as he makes a point to keep things fresh and not dwell on the past. Anyone who has seen him in concert anytime in the past 20 years, say, can attest to the fact that he doesn’t go through the motions of singing a “greatest hits” revue of his older relics from a previous age, even though there are some that are timeless and still are as fresh today as ever .
But, back to the band at hand: of Montreal have done a great service in releasing these precious new tunes that, for one, put out there 17 new songs for longtime fans as well as newcomers, alike. Anyone else wishing to get a taste of the future, would do well to start with Daughter of Cloud, this new OM CD, since because or despite the drifting away from what they sounded like circa Satanic Panic in the Attic, of Montreal have been experimenting with more electronics and a kind of 21st Century Schizoid Clubkid. Well, whatever you want to label of Montreal, just don’t call them emo!!! (because they’re far from being so, which is why I was trying to be funny.
Bottom line here: of Montreal’s new album, Daughter of Cloud is one of the best they’ve done in a while. While I was a little disappointed in False Priest -at least, when I wrote that I was writing that, “saying”this because False Priest was the follow-up to the wonderful,, brilliant, Skeletal Lamping a real statement. The exact message is a bit unclear, but it sounds like it’s going to take a lot of psychedelics which can help to open people’s minds, possibly change some (hopefully “some” means “many”!) to help get over the behaviors and the concomitant problems arising out of them. I think that, if you’re in the right frame of mind, Skeletal Lamping can be a great starting off point for you; not just musically, but artistically, more broadly speaking, as well as leading by example and not be a jerk like several so-called “Rockstars” (I hate that term) who’ve appointed themselves political & social spokespeople for various causes, ugh, how nauseating. Not so with of Montreal, though- no matter whether you’re listening to Satanic Panic…or Lousy With Sylvanbriar or this new album, which, as I’ve written above, in so many words, is not only a wonderful album, but it heralds a bolder, more experimental of Montreal. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about, well, say, 84% of music, overall. Right now I’m just happy that Barnes and his fellow performers are as strong a force as ever and they are continually making great music that keeps churning and burning and keep the faithful out there satisfied while awaiting the next great breath of Bacchus. -KM