If the name on the CD's spine was anything other than Kevin Barnes's Of Montreal, Satanic Panic in the Attic
would be the astonishingly bizarre, all-encompassing, genre-obliterating mother of all pop records, the one we've been waiting for since Brian Wilson went 'round the bend. But Barnes has pulled that trick on us a few times already (see 1999's The Gay Parade
and 2001's Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies
for proof), and the strain of consistently upping the ante appears to be taking its toll. Of Montreal's wholesale appropriation of various and sundry musical styles has now grown to incorporate elements of new-wave, post-punk and Afrobeat into its demented neo-psychedelic brew. These new stylistic change-ups give Of Montreal a contemporary edge, but dull the pastoral chaos that made them so charming to start with.
As usual, Barnes takes perverse pleasure in bending pop's framework to fit his will. Melodies that should not be morph into catchy finger-poppers, time signatures shift without warning and Barnes's sublimely warped lyrics (lines like "Every single one of our London cabbies played / The most truly repellent techno music ever made" could be penned by few others) remain among the most unpredictable in pop. Yet Satanic Panic is an engaging, accessible platter of indie-pop weirdness that shotgun-marries Elephant 6 lo-fi to Blondie-circa-Eat to the Beat dance-rock beats on the opening "Disconnect the Dots", reinterprets power-pop on the fuzzy-fun "How Lester Lost His Wife" and has its way with oddball disco-rock on "My British Tour Diary". The alt-country strummer "City Bird" and the bouncy, David Byrne-esque closer "Vegan in Furs" also merit repeated spins.
It all reads like a mash-up gone horribly awry, but sounds fantastic on record, due in large part to Barnes and company's willingness to master the intricacies of their newfound sounds, while melding them with their old favorites. The eccentric Of Montreal personality shines through their new electro-pop clothes, and the songs themselves hang together in coherent wholes despite their scattergun sampling of styles. New bassist Nina Barnes ably fills in for the absent Derek Anderson, juggling the textures of the band's older material with her husband's new tech-friendly direction.
The only complaint is with Kevin's new fetish for 20-year-old electro beats and the inconsistent way he applies them to the Of Montreal dynamic. The rusty 808 breaks and retro-chic synths are fun when they show up in "Disconnect the Dots", but they sound tacked onto "Rapture Rapes the Muses". A few more months of tweaking would have tightened the tune and culled a bit of the excess gadget worship.
Few bands can rightly claim to possess a signature sound, but Of Montreal remain one of those few by consistently claiming all other sounds as their own: the naive pop smarts of the Beach Boys, the bucolic splendor of the Byrds, the sunshiny goodness of the Apples in Stereo. Satanic Panic charts the perpetual evolution of a band through their latest metamorphosis. What will they sound like on album number seven? Only the voices in Kevin Barnes's gloriously mixed-up head know for sure.