‘Skeletal Lamping’ offers controversy

tom.cory

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It takes time to fall in love with an album, anywhere from a nanosecond to three or four listens. The latest from Of Montreal, “Skeletal Lamping,” is one that may take time. However, one thing’s apparent — Kevin Barnes and the rest of the crew are charting a course to pop territories seldom explored. “Lamping” is an unrepentant concept album complete with characters and songs which act as a prologue to protagonist’s Georgie Fruit’s tumultuous life. Beware: Georgie’s exploits are not for the prudish or homophobic.

Barnes introduces us to Georgie; a former black man turned woman. Some barriers to entry for this album would definitely be Barnes’ choice of language. If you’ve never heard any glam era David Bowie, I’d suggest listening to his more ambiguous gender bending content first to gain appreciation for the genre. On the track “Our Elegant Caste,” Barnes’ falsetto projects a less than ambiguous chorus of “You should know I go both ways.” As was the case with Bowie as Ziggy, it’s an embellished characterization through which raw emotion is funneled. While in Bowie’s day ambiguity was an allure, times have changed and for the same glam trick to work, the genre had to come out of the closet, so to speak.

The first track, “Nonpareil of Favor,” opens up with smooth and intricate plucking of a harpsichord, feeling like the best moments of their last release, “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” It’s poppy and sublime. Soon, the harpsichord fades, Barnes’ falsetto disappears and the listener is left with pure feedback. The drastic stylistic shifts which are so prevalent on “Lamping” seem to be a very guarded response to mainstream success that the band has flirted with lately, having been featured in a series of commercials.

The yo-yo style of the album is certainly not safe, but I wouldn’t call it unintended. Many tracks, when placed on the same album, seem schizophrenic. It’s fair to say that such a patchwork of styles is to be expected when conveying the cracked multi-dimensional mind of a character such as Georgie.

Shining stars are the tracks “Touched Something Hallow” and the final track “An Elurdian Incident.” Both of these tracks have very little in common or with any of the other songs on the album. That, in part, contributes to their appeal. Most tracks share a similar disco-pop construction, though no two tracks are alike. One thing that prevents this album from being a muddled pop disaster is the nature of the concept, just when you think you’ve heard the song before, a snappy line is squealed and you are drawn back in.

It’s fair to call this album a “thinking piece.” One moment you feel you have a grasp of the intent or meaning of a song, but innuendos collide with brashness, only to leave you with an odd sense of ambiguity on a not so ambiguous album. To get distracted by the lyrics is missing the point; listen to the “story,” and relax — it’s not “gay” to like this album.