‘Aureate Gloom’ delivers emotional and technical depth
Thom Behrens | Thursday, March 5, 2015
When front man Kevin Barnes croons “I’ll never follow no kind of master’s voice,” it speaks as much to the musical eclecticism and range of topics for Georgia-based indie rock band Of Montreal as it does to the namesake of their latest album’s lead single, “Bassem Sabry.” The song, named after the recently deceased Egyptian journalist and civil rights activist opens the outfit’s 13th studio album, “Aureate Gloom,” with an over-Foxygenated experiment built primarily on the tools of disco funk and “Le Freak” close-quarter fret riffing to which Bruno Mars, Daft Punk and H&R Block commercials have all allowed the modern indie pop listener to grow entitled to. The band, who has been recording since 1997, has been known for not only their fast acceleration in change of style, but for the breadth of musical genres in which they have dipped their toes.
Eccentricity in independent music, in addition to being undebatably desirable for any hip listener’s engorged deck of name-droppable artists, also brings a certain freedom from responsibility to both said listeners as well as to the label. Of Montreal ranks among the lucky few who have been able to gain enough momentum surrounding the consumption of their work to turn their music from a passion into a career without compromising what it is they want to write for the sake of any pre-established composition style, whether it’s theirs or that of popular music. Barnes’ imaginative and explosive approach to writing coupled with the long leash of Polyvinyl Records has allowed the group to make forays into the flat and uneventful as well as the “dark and violent funk” Barnes describes on “Bassem Sabry.” This sort of experimentation rarely bears truly innovative fruit without some sort of failure along the way; although their track record with regard to both critical and popular acclaim has been some variant of sinusoidal, Of Montreal has this time emerged from the lab with something that is, indeed, aureate.
As much a historical society as a scientific one, “Aureate Gloom” owes much to late 60s psychedelic influences as well as to disco. The band pays their debt to the Beatles more directly than most modern artists: “Like Ashoka’s Inferno of Memory” and “Monolithic Egress” remind us of some acidic White Album, much as “…And Star Power” did late last year. At the same time, “Last Rites At the Jane Hotel” and “Chthonian Durge For Uruk The other” combine intensely grounded vocalization style with aggressively fuzzy accompaniment, taking the same page from The Clash’s book as Ty Segall’s “Manipulator.”
While its musical influences vary widely, the album has a poignantly concise lyrical theme. Written shortly after his separation with his wife of 12 years, Barnes takes a deeply self-reflective, self-indulgent therapeutically self-pitying attitude – just as the title suggests. Lines such as “Seeking out my own authentic season in hell / though it doesn’t seem quite as pompous” or “today I woke ready to blow the bridge / but finding you hand on your mouth / so instead I burned my own bridge / I’m breathing for you” capture the deep emotion of the end of a relationship wrapped in the wide-eyed and aware expressionistic quirks that Barnes has never failed to expose. Be wary of considering it a break-up album; Barnes lingers not on what’s lost, but what’s found in the empty space. Always an explorer, Barnes uses foreign emotion as fuel in his vehicle across new and braver clefs and stanzas. The only thing unlucky about Of Montreal’s thirteenth album is the conditions under which it was written; the product is, by more than a stroke of luck, very much worth a listen.