Ben Ridgeway also contributed to this article.
Of Montreal is the brainchild of Kevin Barnes, who named his band after an unsuccessful relationship with a woman “of Montreal.” The band is a part of the Athens-based Elephant 6 Recording Company, a collective of bands that are joined by their love for 1960s pop music, in particular The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Perhaps most notable is their admiration of the abandoned “Smile” project by Beach Boys’ leader Brian Wilson, which was projected to be his masterpiece. It has become legendary in the music world and is still clouded with mystique, even with portions of the original material having been later released. Of Montreal became one of the first bands to join the Elephant 6 Collective after its formation, likely due to the similarity in sound between of Montreal’s first songs with those of the founder’s bands, the Apples in Stereo, The Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. The influence of Beach Boys and Beatles-esque harmonies and melodies are noticable on of Montreal’s first albums, but as Barnes progressed, he evolved remarkably, transversing and combining genres along the way. Throughout his musical career, there has been a tremendous amount of studio-driven growth. For instance, all of the Elephant 6 bands were advocates of Brian Wilson and Beatles’ producer George Martin’s “using the studio as an instrument” technique, but Barnes took of Montreal’s to a higher level than the other Elephant 6 bands. Vast amounts of new technologies and techniques have emerged since Wilson and Martin’s 1960s, and with this, Barnes has been able to explore numerous genres’ sounds.
White Is Relic / Irrealis Mood, of Montreal’s newest album, marks the opening of yet another pathway along the journey of discography, with it being profoundly more electronic-dance based than any of their previous albums, while still maintaining Barnes’ later album style of a matter-of-fact melodic vocal delivery. Barnes himself has stated that White Is Relic / Irrealis Mood was inspired by “extended dance mixes” of the 1980s. Each song on this album features a double title, the first of Montreal album to have done so, because Barnes realized “how difficult it is to frame the message of a song with just one title.” Barnes is known for his combination of theatre with music.The blending of Barnes’ music, dancing and outfits makes an of Montreal concert quite the spectacle. This also becomes apparent in their music videos. In “Paranoiac Intervals/Body Dysmorphia,” the music video conjures up the feeling of Paranoiac Intervals, with rapid intervallic video flashes and dizzying switches between images of Barnes’ face. It also displays his fondness for vivid, eclectic appearances.
For the academics reading, Barnes also brings up classical conditioning, demonstrating his range in lyrical expression, stating: “You shouldn’t try to unpeel my Pavlovian bells.” The music video for “Plateau Phase/No Careerism No Corruption” shows Barnes with a more natural look, perhaps to create a contrast between him and the alien-like outfits he can be seen in combination, superimposed, or overlaid with — further demonstrating his unique performance style. The first track of the album, “Soft Music/Juno Portraits Of The Jovian Sky,” my personal favorite, demonstrates Barnes’ expert crafting of synth-based melodies, with some vocal harmonies in the beginning and a happening, catchy bass line. One of the best aspects in of Montreal’s music is the strong bass presence, giving listeners a taste of what well-crafted bass lines can add to songs. On the final track, “If You Talk To Symbol/Hostility Voyeur,” the last two minutes end the album with surrealistic dream-like studio-driven and smooth saxophone sounds, reminiscent of songs such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Moon, Turn the Tide. … Gently Gently Away”— a fun way to end the album.
Barnes’ almost chameleon-like ability to dance upon numerous genres of music, from indie, lo-fi, experimental, electronic and dance, makes of Montreal’s entire discography an adventure, and one that is worth exploring. He has hit so many different styles that it seems nigh impossible that one would be unable to find something they didn’t like. While I personally prefer of Montreal’s earlier albums, I refuse to mistake genre and style changes with making a new album better or worse. I thoroughly enjoy all of of Montreal’s albums and hearing Barnes’ musical evolution, it is simply a matter where one’s personal preferences lie. Musically, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood will become a modern psychedelic dance party staple, and lyrically Barnes creates some of his most reflective writing, having stated that many of the lyrics came after quests into the works and autobiographies of many 20th century socio-political commentators. So, from the fun bass lines to the stay-in-your-head-type vocal melodies, White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood is an entertaining listen, and I hope for many more “bizarre celebrations” to come.