What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?
Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Rather, we elected to let our four main writers have a chance to write about any and all of the albums they felt shaped the last decade.
From the beginning of October through the end of December, Monday through Thursday, AD will feature a post, or posts, from a particular writer detailing their favorite albums of the decade. On a given week there might be one album a writer talks about, there might be six, but they’ll get a chance to have their say on everything that comes to mind. Our hope for you, the reader, is that you’ll jump in with your comments on the album selections – tell us why you agree or disagree – and also be exposed to some albums that you may have missed over the last ten years. Now, as the decade starts to wind down, let’s celebrate.
To see Of Montreal perform live is to see an androgynous bacchanal, a crazed Vaudevillian effort of Clockwork Orange proportions. At various shows, in various years, you’d witness frontman Kevin Barnes on stilts in a full latex suffocation, sword-fights with a black-clad spandex warrior, a tiger-headed chimera and, at least once, a (real) white horse onstage, Barnes astride. Face eyeliner glitters nearly as brightly as the music, with Barnes almost always sporting fishnet and/or thong and/or platform heels and/or shirtless. The crowd is a bizarre melting pot of swooning early teenage girls, twentysomething music scenesters and a group of no discernible clique or style; what you might call “normal.” (If normal even exists, and it usually doesn’t, particularly not at an Of Montreal show.)
Setting the stage, as it were, for their live show is important when describing 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins, as you almost need a physical frame of reference to explain what’s going on in the record. That’s not to say Sunlandic has a single mention of chimeras or latex, but it does create a world that can only be constructed by the minds of Of Montreal, which is to say that of Kevin Barnes. A world that in any other setting, by any other presenter, might turn off the normal, might frighten the young girl, might overwhelm the scenester.
“And so begins, begins our odyssey,” Barnes proclaims. “Let’s have bizarre celebrations,” he invites. Now that he’s let you know where his head’s at, you might understand that when he reminds a woman that, “We made love like a pair of black wizards,” he probably really means it.
For all the spectacle and bizarre imagery, though, the album isn’t just for eye-popping show. The lyrics, while sometimes abstruse, aren’t intended necessarily to be silly forays into nonsense. They typically mean something (even if the song titles don’t), in a way only Barnes can describe. It’s a form of expression that’s entirely original, and even more remarkable in its accessibility. It’s not an exclusive experience that you have to “get” to enjoy, but it is an experience, and one full of sensory lavishness. The music is extravagantly diverse, and one of the only things that makes sense (to me) as baroque pop–a genre that exists, but whose rights should belong almost exclusively to Of Montreal. Throughout, electronic influences penetrate the record as readily as simple piano, a composition highlighted by the crescendo of “The Party’s Crashing Us,” where synth strips away to a simple ivory chord before the song crashes into its final verse.
There are occasions in Of Montreal’s career where it does feel like bizarre for bizarre’s sake. Not so here; few efforts have been as utterly enticing as Sunlandic Twins. This was their game changer. An operatic bazaar so intricately and artistically (and, yes, bizarrely) pieced together that you just want to stand and stare. words/ j crosby