listin' what's playing, since 2008

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Highs and Lows of Of Montreal

As a small pre-Christmas gift to myself, I purchased "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?", an album I've been meaning to check out for some time. I was partially motivated by the ubiquitous Top Ten lists that have become as connected to the season as gingerbread lattes and diamond commercials. I may make my own lists for 2007, but let's be honest, does this world really need more? Regardless, I would have plenty of catching up to do on 2007 if I were to be fair about it, and it doesn't make much sense to be trapped in the past when there is a whole new, delicious year of releases to dive into right around the corner. But since I'm in semi-rural Louisiana for a couple of weeks, why not burst my album-reviewing cherry on this intriguing release.

Unlike many other great acts of recent years (Arcade Fire, Stars, Tegan and Sara, Wolf Parade), Of Montreal is not actually of Montreal, but of Athens, Georigia. Go figure. As a disclaimer, I have not listened to any other Of Montreal album (this is their eighth), though this album brings you in immediately, with fun dance beats and songs that flow from one to the other, sometimes seamlessly. The completely obscure song titles and lyric references will send the trivia-obsessed running to Wikipedia on more than one occasion (don't bother with Heimdalsgate, it is a street in Norway apparently). Wikipedia also informed me that this is a concept album, inspired by band leader Kevin Barnes overcoming depression with the help of anti-depressants. This is quite apparent in the poppy beats that optimistically move the album forward, sometimes seeming forced and occasionally making surprisingly sharp turns for the sour. The lyrics would take a high school English class a few weeks to decypher, but there are gems that can't help but be heard and connected with. Being an engineer, I had to love "Physics makes us all its bitches." And don't you FORGET it.

The first tracks of the album have a mid-60s pop beat with vocal harmonies and falsettos that remind one of “Rubber Soul” Beatles on occasion, but all from the audio perspective of some sort of future alien music producer. The first single off the album, “Heimdalsgate like a Promethean Curse,” typifies the up-and-down tone shifts that fill the early tracks, here beginning with the cry “I’m in a crisis, I need help” and moving to a super sugary, over-the-top pop sequence discussing the chemicals in his brain that “hurt me when I’m feeling good,” an obvious reference to his struggles with depression. The epic, 12-minute-long "The Past is a Grotsque Animal" signifies a shift in the tone of the record toward a more mid-70s sex-drenched rhythm and blues. Lyrics such as “I need a girl with soul power” and “The sex in my walk was cotton-soft” epitomize the feeling of the later tracks, which come to their full cocky manifestation in “Labyrinthian Pomp,” an appropriately titled ode to 70s glam rock superiority.

The real gem of the album is track 7, "The Past is a Grotesque Animal", which is nearly three times as long as the next longest track, but never seems it. A panicked bass line emerges from the sonic fog of the supporting instrumentation like the titlular grotesque animal, and the tension begins to build immediately in a way that reminds me of TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me.” A mandatory obscure reference is put out there, this time sending me here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Story_of_the_eye, where I learned it's a novella about the increasing sexual perversion of two experimenting adolescents- FUN! The beat, and tension level, seems to continue to increase, but actually the only real upping of the stakes comes with the introduction of an "ooooh"ing chorus. The storyline seems to echo the Story of the Eye, as the singer’s passion for his new love leads him to suggest more hectic expressions of their love (“Let’s tear the fucking house apart, let’s tear our fucking bodies apart”). In an album full of passionate emotional tunes that don’t need sensical lyrics to convey their meaning, it’s the cream of the crop.

Another of my favorite tracks on the album is the last one, “We Were Born The Mutants Again With Leafling.” (Does that count as English?) Moreso here than anywhere else on the album, the lyrics are hardly necessary in comparison to the jangling, “matter of fact,” forward-moving beat of the instrumentation. Like the other great track of this album, it doesn’t need throwback musical beats to make it click with the listener, because it has a modern life-like rhythm to it. This is the sort of music that ends up in the outro of some tragically hip television show featuring characters with impossibly dramatic lives. It takes you away to a place where the drama is real, but subsided for now, and leaves you with a smile on your face, saying “Oh yeah, that’s why I watch this show.”

Sunday, December 16, 2007

a mission statement

Of course, I would decide to start a blog at midnight when I have a large report to be working on. But hey, when inspiration strikes (and distraction is inevitable...)

I've never "blogged" before (in fact, I'm not a big fan of the term), but I've always had a fascination with new music and the people who get to critique it. It seems like keeping up with the latest on the scene would be a full time job (which some people are lucky enough to have!). While I stick with my actual job of engineering, I wanted to try out using one of these new-fangled "blog" thingies for a few reasons. A creative outlet. A way to reach out and find like-minded music fans. To be a voice for those who like to hear what's new, what's out there, but are a little overwhelmed/intimidated by the literally infinite amount of obscure acts out there... I'll never be one of those people who knows EVERY band, and I don't believe those people actually exist. I also have a lot of work to do in catching up on the classics. I plan to write a few times a week, sticking mainly to the topic of music (and hopefully not straying into my personal life or politics too often...). In the mean time, I'll be finishing up my master's degree in Mechanical Engineering and working full time for a large corporation. You may see the evidence of my nerdiness seep through the SUPER cool music fan facade ;) We'll see where this goes! Thanks for joining me for the ride! And if you have a similar blog, PLEASE leave me a comment, I would love to find what's out there (and haven't quite figured that part out yet).

Alright, back to this damn engineering!