Of Montreal undergoes musical transformation

It’s been eight years since Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes released what is widely considered to be his magnum opus, 2007’s “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” 

Demonstrating psychedelic pop at its best, “Hissing Fauna” detailed Barnes’ breakdowns through chemical dependency and conflicts with his then-girlfriend, Nina. 

Nina Twin, as she is referred to in the record, causes Barnes a lot of stress in hard times and elation when it all comes together.

Now in 2015, Barnes and Nina have split, and Barnes has found the best way to release his feelings in a therapeutic and cathartic way, the best way Barnes knows how to do: by releasing another record.

The 13th record by Of Montreal since its debut in 1997, “Aureate Gloom” captures a sense of variety in its sound, yet still retains Barnes’ honest and sometimes depressing vocals displayed in an upbeat manner. New to the band’s library are tracks featuring violinist Karou “Kishi Bashi” Ishibashi performing background vocals following his stint as a solo artist.

“Aureate Gloom’s” lead single and opening track “Bassem Sabry” begins by illustrating these troubles following a giant wall of distortion before transforming immediately into a poppy funk number. 

Barnes sings: “I watched my hero fall, and now I’m in a dark and violent funk.”

The funk changes at the snap of a finger, from bitterly whispered drum-and-bass verses before going into an almost surf-rock sounding chorus and bridge. 

The track “Empyrean Abbatoir” has a lot of these genre shifts and it shows that 13 albums later, Of Montreal has mastered this art. 

“Aureate Gloom” shows a drastic improvement from 2013’s “Lousy With Sylvianbriar,” whose alt-country Neil Young and Crazy Horse-esque vibe illustrated that maybe an entirely new musical direction isn’t the best for a band. For “Aureate Gloom,” Barnes’ honest vocals are almost free-form amidst the beautiful instrumentation, yet Barnes still manages to tackle the melody and truly make each song his own.

The sound of each track plays a large role in this record. One song in particular, “Apollyon of Blue Room,” almost mirrors The Kinks’ classic “You Really Got Me” in its verses before breaking off into a solo that sounds like nothing one would hear from a band like Of Montreal. 

This overall musical change is almost more fitting for the band, and it may well even outshine the band’s psych-pop expertise. 

However, there are still some problems with “Aureate Gloom.” 

As is his usual singing style, Kevin Barnes has too large a vernacular to really drive in his point or even the concept of his lyrics. 

While his lyrics often seem to be drowned in metaphors and literary references, this record sees him more just venting on his break-up and doing it in such a way that the listener is more focused on the lyrics than the music itself. 

This, in turn, makes the listener struggle to decode what exactly they are trying to understand through Barnes’ vocals, yet it still makes for an interesting and sometimes intellectually challenging ride. 

While not in the same vein as what are considered to be the band’s three best albums, the psychedelic “Satanic Panic in the Attic,” “The Sunlandic Twins,” and “Hissing Fauna,” Of Montreal and Kevin Barnes in particular seem to be making the best of time and the events that unfold in their natural lives. 

It just takes the right medium and maybe a few style changes before one can really make their point and on “Aureate Gloom,” they do just that.