splendid > reviews > 9/3/2002
Of Montreal
Of Montreal
Aldhils Arboretum

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Doing Nothing"

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Of Montreal don't get the most from "Old People in the Cemetery". It's a great idea for a song, but the lyrics are only intermittently contemplated. I understood this line ("There's nothing precious / About old people in the cemetery / Reciting Bible passages"), cleverly placed against their precious Turtles-driven psychedelia, but other lyrics ("There's nothing sadder than an old woman in the cemetery / Picking leaves off of her husband's tomb / Knowing that her only wish / Is she would die and join him soon") smack of the cinematic. I've known people who visited cemeteries out of guilt, and people who found comfort and a sense of purpose there, but never a person whose entire life disappeared with somebody else's death. For better or worse, we were made to eventually brush pain off -- and as a result, that one lyric causes me to doubt the absolute honesty of Kevin Barnes's words. I also think Barnes actually means "young people", though he calls them old ("Must be scary / To visit the grave of a close friend / Who was the same age as you when they died"); perhaps Barnes chose "old people" as a subject because the best song from the sixties ("Eleanor Rigby") did.

For better or worse, Kevin Barnes's musical mind has sucked up every thought from all his Turtles, Beatles and Strawberry Alarm Clock records, and he can't help but let it seep into everything he does. It leads him to epiphanies that other artists never come close to achieving, and makes him say, helplessly, "It's good to drop out, you should try it", as if he actually lives in another era. Unless he really does live in the country, and wants to sing its praises, Barnes should be careful when he evokes the peacefulness of country living. Contemporary writers can't start a book "Lolita, lo-lee-ta", and today's songsmiths can't babble about the Village Green.

I think Kevin Barnes is a genius -- you have to be a math whiz to count up all the amazing hooks, and playful arrangements on Aldhils Arboretum -- but he often sells his subjects short. He settles for stock images, women from the Turtles and Pink Floyd (Eleanor, Emily), and ideas cribbed from children's books ("There's a cranky old lady next door / Who accuses us of burning down her barn").

And yet, what the fuck -- this is still an amazing CD, and a possible equal to Turtle Soup (one of my favorite records ever). The 99 instruments weaving their way through this record are all employed to maximum effect; not only are there extraordinary guitar parts in every song, but also oboes, horns, cellos and bee-wing drum sticks fluffing up the melodies, sending them skyward and down, graveside, and coming to rest beside your favorite mad pianist. There's emotion, extraordinary technique, and a surprising, oh-so-welcome passion in the singing. Barnes sure sounds like he's from the country -- he's making sun tea and talking to bears, and Emily is just over the hill; come see Emily play.

Follow Barnes with "A Question for Emily Foreman". Here, given the opportunity to pose Syd Barrett's twisted princess a question, he asks, "Do you think it's safe to guess that you'll be different than the rest?" Even with all your retro leanings, is it safe to say you're the one and only...Of Montreal?

Of Montreal are different from the rest, at this point, because their playing is distinguished (even revolutionary, as with the lounge-psychedelia oompahs of "Kissing in the Grass"), and because their heart is fully in the music. They love these songs, and this world in which the songs play out, and you can tell. You want them to be perfect, and think they can be perfect, but right now they make albums too quickly. It's all a bunch of beautiful music and terrific ideas, but Barnes never sits on them long enough to let them mature. I'm positive that Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal have even better albums in them -- and that's as high a compliment I can go, as Aldhils Arboretum mostly blows my mind ("I want to dance / So I don't have to think anymore"). I merely think old women in the cemetery are precisely that -- old women, often still in love -- and there's nothing sad or pathetic about it.



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