By: Iyas Daghlas
“Through my songs I add beauty and mystery and happiness and love and new landscapes and sadness and laughter to a life that’s not very interesting by itself.”
Of Montreal has mastered the (extremely difficult) art of morphing their sound whilst remaining instantly recognizable. Their most recent release, Lousy with Sylvianbriar, was tinged with country influences, while the classic, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer, was a wondrous amalgam of funk and electronic music. Regardless of stylistic differences, these records are tied together by Kevin Barnes’ songwriting trademarks: relatively straightforward lyrics about not so straightforward subjects; mastery of unexpected, yet catchy, melodies; and a tendency towards absurdly long song titles (see: A Man’s Life Flashing Before His Eyes While He and His Wife Drive Off a Cliff into the Ocean). First prize on that last point, however, will always go to Sufjan Stevens. Always.
Cherry Peel was the first album released by Of Montreal, and it is easily the purest distillation of the band’s style. The two main players here are Kevin’s voice and his guitar, which are often punctuated by playful psychedelic synths and lead guitar. These simple arrangements and lo-fi bedroom production make for very easy and fun listening. In fact, focusing solely on the sound can make these songs sound falsely upbeat. The lyrics sometimes tell a different story.
Taking care of and being taken care of seem to be a big concern for Kevin. On “Tim I Wish You Were Born a Girl,” he sings: “And then when you got sick / I could take the day off work / I could’ve made you chicken soup / And we could watch soap operas / Oh, those TV dramas / I could catch your cold / And you could take care of me.” These songs are about intimate thoughts and desires, but manage to not sound the least bit sappy or sarcastic. You feel little self-awareness coming from the songs, and it’s almost as if someone stealthily recorded Kevin singing to himself in the shower.
A similar track, “Don’t Ask Me to Explain,” features multi-tracked vocal earworms and lyrics like “Who will be watching my body when I sleep?”. The emotion in this song builds up until you get the sense that everything is going to boil over and suddenly you’re hit by a frenzied synth/distorted guitar solo that leaves your head spinning and your brain leaking out of your ears.
It’s wonderful to know that someone can so unabashedly and genuinely express themselves without sounding lame about it (sorry Sufjan, but I think Kevin has you beat here). Although their sonic palette has expanded, the ground treaded on Cherry Peel remains the foundation for everything released afterwards. While I love mostly everthing Of Montreal has released, Cherry Peel will always occupy a special place in my heart.
“You’ve Got A Gift.” This is the last track on the album and features an absolutely stunning outro that I won’t describe because you really should listen to it yourself.
Be sure to catch Of Montreal at The Blue Note on Saturday, October 4th
Instead of socializing on weekends, Iyas likes to lay in his bed and cry to obscure field recordings of babbling brooks, harsh industrial noise, or childrens records played at the wrong RPM. He got to see Cloud Nothings over the summer at Pitchfork Music Festival, and it was by far the best show he’s ever been to. That is until St. Vincent played a few hours later and his brain was summarily fried by the otherworldly frequencies shooting out of her guitar amplifier. He is still working on getting that fixed.
(BTW, if you caught that Parks and Rec reference, Iyas would like to be your best friend.)