Monday, October 20, 2008

Record Review: Of Montreal- Skeletal Lamping

Love it or hate it, Of Montreal’s ninth album is a mysterious voyage.

Rating: 4.5/5

I feel like this review should start with a disclaimer, so here it is: this is a record made by Kevin Barnes for Kevin Barnes and anyone else who wants to join in on his sexploites. If you feel you can’t commit to a universe where freaking out on mountain goats, doing it softcore (or both ways), and ejaculating until it’s no longer fun are common practice, you may want to get out while you can. If, on the other hand, the concept of an album composed almost entirely of one to two minute, sexually ambiguous and sometimes awkwardly direct song snippets does not terrify you, you're free to board the craziest party boat since Onterio Smith introduced the world to the Whizzinator.

Skeletal Lamping is not going to be an album that is universally accepted, but it may wind up being a landmark moment in pop music ten years down the road. Conversely, it could be left on the side of said road to collect dust, a forgotten showcase of one man’s fragile psyche and his ill-advised expedition to cleanse himself.

That’s what Skeletal Lamping is, and why its title is one of the best in recent memory. Lamping is the cruel hunting practice of setting up a lantern in the middle of the night and waiting for animals to flock to it, setting up an inevitable slaughter. On the ninth Of Montreal album (though essentially the fourth Kevin Barnes solo album, as he has recorded each one since 2004’s Satanic Panic In The Attic by himself), Barnes attempts to use the same practice within himself, to cleanse his own personal demons.

Coming off the heals of last year’s painfully honest Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, it comes as no surprise why Barnes would want to do this. But no one could have predicted how sexual this thing could have turned out. Without further ado, ten favorite lines from the album (and debate on this subject is both necessary and welcome):

10. I took her standing in the kitchen, ass against the sink.

9. You’re the only one with whom I would roleplay Oedipus Rex (Gasda).

8. I’m so sick of sucking the dick of this cruel, cruel city.

7. Just to look at her is God… can’t you see it baby?

6. Here’s the kind of guy that would leave you in a k-hole to go play Halo in the other room.

5. You know I would have given it up to almost anybody who had a little bit of money and was sweet to me.

4. When the hope of another wet nightmare is all we have to live for.

3. I want to make you cum two-hundred times a day.

2. I asked your friend if you were available/ She answered no but yes, uh well, uh well yes and no.

1. I want to hurt you bad/ Make you paranoid/ and say the sweetest things.

The last line comes from “Gallery Piece”, a thoroughly disturbing piece of perpetual contrasts that divide the psyche of Barnes from the sweet to the violent, from his external nature to his sexual urges. Like many Of Montreal songs, it sets an uplifting, funky groove over deceptively morbid lyrical undertones.

“Touched Something’s Hollow” is the purest, most honest moment on the album. Barnes asks, “Why am I so damaged girl? Why am I such poison girl? I don’t know how long I can go on, if it’s gonna be like this forever.” This lasts all of two unnervingly straightforward minutes, before blasting into the trumpets of album highlight “An Eluardian Instance”, recounting how Barnes met his wife.

Yeah, there’s a black she-male and a fun moment where Barnes admits he has no clue what he’s talking about, and dozens of other things I haven’t mentioned and probably should have, including the last thirty seconds of “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” and frontrunner for best Of Montreal song title ever, “Triphallus, To Punctuate!” You can even start the album with lead single “Id Engager” as the first track and play the entire thing backwards for an entirely different yet somehow still cohesive experience.

It’s all a matter of how much you feel you want to immerse yourself into this experience. As someone who’s heard the album dozens of times, now, it’s still fun to pick up new, subtle nuances, as if dissecting fragments of one long, psychodelic dream. To the untrained ear, this is nothing more than a series of song ideas that don’t really add up to complete songs. But to dedicated lampers, this concept of pop-song schizophrenia is nothing short of revelatory.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Review: Jack's Mannequin - The Glass Passenger

It's three years since Jack's Mannequin released their first album, Everything In Transit, and their long anticipated second album (at least I was anticipating it) is finally here! I know that this review has come a little late considering this album was released last month, but I'll have you know I was not planning on reviewing it at all. The rest of the 'How's the pie?' staff was heartbroken when they heard this, and they begged me to review here goes.

I must admit that my first impression of this album was not great. It clearly had more consistency than Everything In Transit, but it was still lacking those incredibly catchy songs like Dark Blue and The Mixed Tape. I was very reluctant to give up on this album so I gave it a few more listens at home over fall break without the distractions of a college campus, and many of the songs have really grown on me. The post production and multilayering of many songs gives this album something extra that might have been missing on their first one.

The album leads of with "Crashin" and if you're willing to get past Andrew's scratchy vocals in the beginning you'll find this song has a very catchy chorus with probably the most beautiful piano part in the entire album. "Spinning" and "What Gets You Off" are also very good songs that have a similar build up from their low key verse to an extremely catchy chorus.

The album's first single "The Resolution" is probably the most memorable song on the album. The powerful vocals and piano melody certainly make it one of the most replayable songs.

Even though The Glass Passenger has its share of upbeat songs, tunes like "Swim", "Hammers and Strings", and "Orphans" among others tend to way down the album. Although these songs are emotionally significant given what Andrew has been through and how his lyrics reflect his experiences, they aren't quite as listenable as the previously songs previously mentioned.

What made this album so appealing for me on my third and fourth listen through were the lyrcis. It was very easy to identify with many of the songs and I have to say that piano rock is just so damn catchy.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Record Review: Oasis: Dig Out Your Soul

Not the one "that's gonna save" them.

Rating: 2.5/5

If someone wanted to list all the bands that have referred to The Beatles as an important influence to their music, it would probably take a few weeks. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this; The Beatles are widely regarded as one of the best bands of all time. Unfortunately, Oasis didn’t realize that the first time The Beatles wrote classics like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Come Together,” they did it right. On Oasis’ seventh studio album, Dig Out Your Soul, they aren’t ashamed to rehash any ground already covered by their obvious inspiration, but still manage to give their fans something mildly worth-while.

Dig Out Your Soul opens with tight grooves on both “Bag it Up” and “Waiting for the Rapture:” full of catchy guitar hooks and Liam Gallagher’s classic abrasive vocals, but they also contain predictable crescendos and melodies. Not surprisingly, Oasis hasn’t evolved much since 1994’s Definitely Maybe. Their problems transcend the ability to develop resonating melodies; this material was only creative fourteen years ago.

Despite the fact that Oasis hasn’t changed its formula over the course of seven albums, Dig Out Your Soul still has its share of highlights. The acoustic guitar and piano based tune “I’m Out of Time” features pleasantly simple lyrics from Gallagher, “If I’m to fall / Would you be there to applaud / Or would you hide behind them all?” Clearly channeling Lennon, the ballad manages to capture the last bit of freshness that remains from past Oasis efforts.

Right before “I’m Out of Time” comes the leading single, “The Shock of the Lightning.” Driving percussion, noisy guitars and Liam’s coarse verse vocals make up for the obvious Beatles reference in the chorus lyrics, which repeatedly croon, “Magical mystery.” The Fab Four hijacking doesn’t end there; “(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady” lifts both a drum pattern and guitar hook that sounds eerily similar to the timeless “Come Together,” but doesn’t deliver the resonating bass line and powerful chorus that comes with the Abbey Road standout. “To Be Where There’s Life” contains plenty of sitar and psychedelic progressions to show the clear attempt to channel the Revolver closer “Tomorrow Never Knows,” but lacks the suspense and unearthly sense that the Beatles’ classic delivers.

Beyond the few highlights and an obvious influence of a certain 1960’s band, there’s nothing too exciting here. The last three tracks don’t contain anything noteworthy, except album closer “Soldier On,” which uses clich├ęd and ineffective reverb on Gallagher’s voice which spouts boring lyrics like “Hold the line, friend of mine / Sing a song / Soldier on / Shine a light for me tonight / Don’t be long,” make the band sound blander than ever.

Suffering from uniform instrumentation and consistently uninspiring lyrics, Dig Out Your Soul fails to accomplish anything substantial for the veteran Brit-rockers. Not only does it fail to reproduce a “Live Forever” or “Wonderwall,” Oasis’ standard songwriting formula does nothing to challenge new listeners. Beyond its struggles, Dig admittedly churns out a few worthwhile tracks, but nothing which makes it worthy of sitting next to Definitely Maybe or (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, let alone Revolver or Abbey Road.