How many bands out there write songs about three-legged hyena cicadas, incorporate Dustin Hoffman into each song title, or close an album with an eighteen-minute piano opus? Not too many. But then again, Of Montreal isn't your typical band.
First of all, don't let the name fool you. Of Montreal isn't from Canada at all. Rather, the name stems from a brief encounter that lead singer / songwriter Kevin Barnes experienced with the love of his life in - you guessed it - Montreal. Love and loss became the wellspring of a creative endeavor that has produced six records of euphoric fantasy grounded in the reality of the human condition.
One of several bands on the Kindercore label, Of Montreal are gentle popsmiths who weave strange tales and fanciful melodies with intricate artwork, all the while operating with Village Green Preservation Society panache. The songs are dreamy and playful, with imagination galore.
The latest release by Of Montreal is yet another quirky record with thematic scope and vision called Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse. With twenty-two tracks, Kevin Barnes' conceptual pop invites you into a psychedelic world with a remarkable cast of characters and a vaudevillian vibe.
As Barnes explains, Coquelicot (pronounced coke-uh-lick-oh), "is a pseudo concept album about Coquelicot, a fairy-like creature called an efeblum. Efeblums are employed by the loving spirits of the universe to place tiny bells inside people's hearts. These bells are a source of love and inspiration. In a trip to earth, Coquelicot decides to experience life as a human, but instead falls asleep in a field of poppies and the story takes place in her dream world. So it's her dream about what being a human must be like."
Each track unfolds, part truth and part fiction. Slow tunes are mixed with madcap zany ones. There's a song about a wax museum. There's also a detective story that's delivered as a spoken work piece with sound effects and changing character voices. Not to mention the song about three-legged hyena cicadas.
Mastermind Kevin Barnes gently guides this outfit as they piece together an intriguing collage with childlike fancy. "Plumy plum drops of pear shaped rain and tear drops dripping pastly from peacock parasols that obscure the mad procession," Barnes sings on "The Peacock Parasols." There's an elusive aura amidst the pop jangle and theatrical soundscape. Barnes has a knack for crafting things extraordinary, celebrating art in all its beautiful forms.
Collaborating with his artist brother David Barnes (credited as Aldhil Foil), the brothers Barnes have created a mind-numbing collection of sight and sound where pop, philosophy, love, and lore collide.
Kevin Barnes comments, "It isn't necessary to know the concept to enjoy it. We avoided turning it into a straight narrative because that sort of concept record always becomes annoying after the fifth time you hear it. There is a story included in the artwork that ties everything together for those, like me, who are interested in that sort of thing."
The artwork is bizarre and utterly intriguing. These brothers bend and twist things to their own devices. Each brother allows his art to come alive and play off the other's.
That interaction culminates in the remarkable album closer "The Hopeless Opus," a gentle yet dramatic eighteen- minute piano song.
Kevin composed this piece over the course of two years as he gained proficiency on the piano while brother David conceived a foldout poster, both intended to interpret and complement one another.
"My brother and I just kind of discovered each other," explains Kevin, "which sounds kinda strange since we're born into the same family. We just recently discovered this special connection. Maybe the connection is there because we're brothers, but maybe it's also because we've ended up on the same wavelength somehow."
In addition to being a collaboration between brothers through different media, Coquelicot also marks the first real band collaboration in the studio.
"This is the first true 'band' record we have ever made," says Kevin. "I say this because it is the first time we have all collaborated together during the writing and recording process. We took our time, a year and a half, and really labored over every detail."
The resulting sound plays like a psychedelic musical, one that cuts to the heart in its evocation of love and human frailty.
Of Montreal performs as part of yet another show put together by local renaissance man Ross Compton.
"This show is gonna be a supa party," Compton comments. "We're going to do it as an animal costume party. Folks are encouraged to come dressed as animals, real or imagined. People with costumes will get in for one dollar - that dollar going to the Action Arts Collective. And after the show, everyone is invited downstairs to an ice cream float social in the 'Caroline and Peanut Jones Jungle Lounge and Animal Sanctuary.'"
Sounds like the perfect setting for an Of Montreal show, defying explanation.
"We try to be as creative as possible," states Kevin. "We try to completely ignore the conventional style of what is popular or on the radio."
Kevin adds, "I think music should offer people an opportunity to escape into a different world. Coquelicot is a world without logic or consequences. A world of absurd beauty where even ugliness is made charming by its depth."
"When I was younger," Kevin continues, "I used to think that even though life is kinda sad sometimes, you can make your world better with music. I guess that whole idea stuck with me and developed into a more concrete thing that hopefully comes across in our music."
Of Montreal will perform on Friday, May 18th, at Mecca. The Marshmallow Coast, Second Story man, and Big Fresh will open the show, which starts at 7:30. Admission is $1 with a costume and $5 without a costume. An ice cream float social will follow the show.
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