Through the Past, Brightly
Of Montreal’s distinctive style of psychedelic pop has grown and developed for nearly a decade, slowly but steadily building an underground following for this member of the Elephant 6 Collective. Polyvinyl has reissued three of the earliest efforts from Of Montreal, originally released on Kindercore, illuminating the rich roots of this group and making this work more accessible to fans who missed it the first time around. Polyvinyl has decided to focus on the three releases that followed Of Montreal’s well regarded debut Cherry Peel from 1997. Included are the mini-album The Bird Who Continues to Eat the Rabbit’s Flower and the full-length The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy, both originally released in 1998. Rounding out the re-releases is The Early Four Track Recordings, a collection of raw recordings that pre-date Cherry Peel but which didn’t see the light of day until 2001.The Bird Who… is an excellent follow-up to the band’s debut. The eight songs are a perfect blend of the pop sensibilities displayed on Cherry Peel with a growing 60s psychedelic influence. The opening track “You Are An Airplane” starts up as an upbeat number, with Kevin Barnes’ characteristic playful lyrics taking one of his morbid twists in the chorus: “When you crash I want to go down with you / We’ll make such a horrible mess.” As the verses become gloomier, the song breaks down into a Syd Barrett-inspired jam that grows disharmonic as it escorts the track out. Conversely, the cheerfully innocent observations of “When A Man Is In Love With A Man” is typical of the fun Barnes likes to have with his lyrical content. A cover of The Who’s “Disguises” further demonstrates the bands’ 60s pop chops.
If The Bird Who… shows the seeds of the psychedelic-leanings of later albums beginning to sprout, then The Early Four Track Recordings is when Barnes tilled the soil of his song-bed. Absent is the studio wizardry that enabled the complex sonic tapestries of later albums; this album is all about the stripped down songs and lyrics. The production is certainly raw, yet only a step or two behind Cherry Peel and still entirely listenable. Barnes’ vocals cut through with clarity, delivering some superb wordplay. The opening line of “Dirty Dustin Hoffman Needs a Bath” sets up exactly the kind of wordplay to be expected within: “Wide-eyed optimist looking for a sarcastic Sagittarius.” The song titles all follow the Dustin Hoffman motif, though the story the titles tell has nothing to do with the songs they refer to.
On “Dustin Hoffman’s Children Don’t Enter the Bathroom,” Kevin Barnes sings a line that encapsulates the backbone of his songwriting: “You are a book that I like to read / One where the characters mature with me.” This theme serves as a perfect introduction to the third reissue, The Bedside Drama. This heart-tugging tragedy depicts the rise and fall of two young lovers, unfolding like a play. From the opening musings of “One of a Very Few of a Kind” the stage is set for a “love-at-first-sight” romance, but by the fourth track, “Sing You A Love You Song,” we can already see the insecurities growing that will inevitably destroy the relationship. Instrumental tracks like “The Couple In Bed Together Under a Warm Blanket Wrapped Up In Each Other’s Arms Asleep” serve as scenes that propel the story towards the heartbreaking acceptance of a one-sided love in the closing tracks “The Hollow Room” and “It’s Easy to Sleep When You’re Dead.” Given the origins of the band’s name, one can only wonder if the inspiration for this album was slightly autobiographical.
Musically, the album is slightly more straightforward and subdued than the more experimental The Bird Who…, in ways sounding similar to the style of Cherry Peel. The characters and their story emerge above the music, making this album a more rewarding journey from start to finish as opposed to a collection of excellent stand-alone songs (as was the case with The Bird Who…). Of Montreal perfectly masters this balance between concept album storytelling and writing tracks that can shine entirely on their own merit on The Gay Parade, and so these albums elucidate the path of the band’s development into some of the strongest material of their career.
As an added bonus, Polyvinyl has also released a tour-only EP entitled Deflated Chime, Foals Slightly Flower Sibylline Responses, containing two previously released tracks and two new songs. The EP leads with one of the single “Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)” from their newest album, followed by “Disconnect the Dots” from Satanic Panic in the Attic. Both these songs are shining examples of the band’s movement into an electro-pop direction. The new tracks stay true to this course, with “Psychotic Feeling” starting off with a standard driving indie rock bassline that builds to a full synth chorus, while “Noir Blues To Tinnatus” has a more dreamy feel that lays the effects on thick.