I absolutely loved this album.
Before laying down my justifications for such a grandiose statement, I must put forth a couple of caveats. First, this is the only Of Montreal album I have ever listened to. I was familiar with a few of their better-known songs, but that’s it. Skeletal Lamping is the band’s ninth studio album. Second, I don’t typically like the type of music Of Montreal makes. While their sound is notoriously eclectic and has changed over time, Of Montreal in its current incarnation is most accurately described as "techno-pop-funk glam." I don’t like techno, and the word pop makes me shudder.
Despite my ambivalence toward Of Montreal's particular category of sound, I still recognize brilliance when I hear it. The opening song, "Nonpareil of Favor" left me utterly confused, but in a good way. Packed into this one song I identified funk beats, brilliant lyrics, nonsensical and unmelodic grunge-like guitar riffs, Queen-inspired operatics, psychedelic meanderings, and pop-rock precision. Yet somehow it all came together—not perfectly perhaps, but I was left intrigued and excited for the rest of the album.
It was not until the third track, "For Our Elegant Caste," that I collected another reason for singing Of Montreal's brilliance. This song is ridiculously catchy. The second it ended, it was already stuck in my head. Of Montreal is certainly pop, and god, this song must be good to dance to. Other club-friendly songs include "Gallery Piece" and "Id Engager."
Of Montreal's lyrics are top-notch. They maintain the descriptive poetry of indie rock without the accompanying pretension. Suffused throughout is a sense of frustrated disorientation on the part of singer and songwriter Kevin Barnes. It seems Barnes is afflicted with both hatefully destructive and lovingly life-affirming thoughts. In "Death Isn’t a Parallel Move," Barnes bemoans that, "All my thoughts are from a foreign host/Now I feel just like a ghost," a sentiment which oddly mirrors what it's like to read Barnes' lyrics: the concurrent onslaught of such unalloyed spite, tenderness, anxiety, fear, and elation results in a certain sense of free-floating alienation and disembodiment.
Nowhere is Barnes more confused that in the sexual arena. Some of the lyrics drip with dirtiness, while others are drenched in romantic love. Barnes recently reunited with his estranged wife, which explains a lyric like "When you're dead, I’ll look for you like Orpheus/I’ll find you some way," from "Plastis Wafers." Yet from the same song is the less romantic declaration, “I want you to be my pleasure puss/I wanna know what it’s like to be inside you.” The juxtaposition of pornographic lust with romantic yearning is prominent in almost every track, and in "An Eluardian Instance," Barnes whines, "This inbreeding of ideas is intolerable."
Baffling incongruities bleed into every facet of the album. Dark and dreary lyrics are paired with flamboyantly upbeat tunes. Illicit lyrics are paired with jazzy, romantic melodies. Kevin Barnes is a befuddled mess, and he takes us along for the ride. Sometimes so many sounds are packed into one song that a jarring discordance results. If you like uncomplicated, easy listening, this is not for you. Other music critics tell me that while Skeletal Lamping is good, the albums Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse are Of Montreal's true masterworks. Be that as it may, I can tell you with certainly that Skeletal Lamping took me by surprise and served as welcome antidote to the musical mediocrity that I've come to expect.