When in need of personality: Georgia-based indie rock outfit, Of Montreal.
Of Montreal just released a really weird, 7-minute track. This may not sound too shocking or newsworthy to you if you’re at all familiar with the work of this band, which has a bit of a reputation for really weird, long tracks. This most recent one, titled “Wintered Debts,” appeared on the band’s website recently with no accompanying explanation (it's free to download), but many Of Montreal fans believe the song is a first glimpse at their upcoming eleventh studio album, Paralytic Stalks, due to be released in early 2012 on Polyvinyl.
If nothing else, “Wintered Debts” showcases the versatility of band frontman Kevin Barnes. Barnes is well-known for his on-stage performances as alter-ego Georgie Fruit--but in addition to channeling a 40-something “black she-male,” he apparently does a pretty good Elliott Smith as well. The song opens with an acoustic-backed Barnes singing about pain and bitterness with Smith’s characteristic whisper-soft delivery, but the tempo quickly picks up as Barnes segues into more traditional Of Montreal fare, recapitulating the quirky atonal pop of 2008’s Skeletal Lamping, which was my personal introduction to the band’s work, and definitely one of the most interesting albums I’ve ever heard.
2008's Skeletal Lamping.
And as always, Barnes’s lyrics do not disappoint, as he sings about “slipping on my own vomit while I tried to call you from a bathroom in São Paulo but I was too drunk to formulate any sort of earthly language”--truly lyrics we can all relate to, because really, who hasn’t done that, right? What? You haven’t? Uh...yeah...me neither. Amazingly enough, all this occurs in just the first minute of the song--when you’re Kevin Barnes, time is of the essence, because the goal is apparently to cram as many distinct genres as possible into a song-length period of time. By minute three, we find Barnes channeling his inner...creepy little kid, I guess...as he repeats, “Father, will we starve today? Father, will we starve?” in a soft, sing-song voice, before transitioning into a somewhat dissonant orchestral interlude.
So what is this song about? I have no idea. But once again, if you’re at all familiar with Of Montreal, you would know that this is not usually the right question to ask. Of Montreal has undergone quite a few transformations since Barnes started the band in 1997, but recently, the band seems to have perfected a very distinctive style, if I can use the term “style” loosely for a minute--because the idea of “style,” like the idea of meaning, implies a certain level of cohesiveness and unity of expression which just isn’t there. Of Montreal’s music defies categorization or simplification--sure, they’re commonly referred to as an “indie rock band,” but “indie” has become a bit of a meaningless catch-all that definitely doesn’t do justice to Of Montreal’s sound.
Of Montreal and frontman David Barnes have a natural flair for the eccentric.
Of course, I’m not trying to suggest that Of Montreal’s music lacks unity altogether--Barnes has a way of bringing together disparate stylistic and lyrical elements in a way that just works, and the variety constitutes a sort of unity in itself, similar to the unity of a clip show or a collage. Sometimes it seems like the purpose of each song is just to serve as a showcase for Barnes’s mastery over a variety of styles, as well as his ridiculous vocabulary--in another part of “Wintered Debts,” Barnes sings, “can’t seem to get the saddle on the spoils of this morbid fugue”--um, what??? Did he construct that sentence with a complete disregard for the meanings of the words involved? Or is there a deeper meaning that can be uncovered by further analysis?
I don’t know, but one thing is for sure: if “Wintered Debts” is any indication of the direction Of Montreal will take for their eleventh album, this band will have us asking questions like those for a long time. Barnes even stated in an interview with Pitchfork that Paralytic Stalks would be “a bit more esoteric” than anything he’s done before. So basically...you think you’ve seen weird? You ain’t seen nothing yet.