of Montreal - The Sunlandic Twins
When I met you, I was just a kid
Hadn’t built up my defenses
So I gave my heart completely
Vaseline over the lenses
I was introduced to of Montreal early freshman year at a party where Frollo’s iPod was playing. Listening to "Penelope" for the first time was the most right anything had ever sounded. Everything I never knew I longed for in a song was there: the whimsical verse, the catchy pop, the randomness of it all. Frontman Kevin Barnes’s loony aural stylings hit my eardrums in a way that I’d only heard people describe meeting their soul mate—clicking in an entirely novel yet distinctly familiar way.
“Sunlandic Twins”—of Montreal’s 7th album, and the newest release at the time—became my absolute obsession. There is no better indicator of an impending dance party than the lead-in to “Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games).” It often played during impromptu dance parties - usually as a last grasp at sanity in the thick of finals. “The Party’s Crashing Us Now” is another absolute joy.
Amidst the post-party mess Barnes successfully layers unpleasantness in lyrics over poppiness in melody, making this album ideal happy music for depressed people. Even weaving more somber tracks through the general gaiety, the melancholy remains highly harmonized. The wordless “October is Eternal” starts with an elaborate vocal arrangement and ends in a cacophony of kazoos.
While of Montreal is a collaborative effort, it’s distincly Barnes’s brainchild. When he relinquishes singing duties to then-wife Nina on “Keep Sending Me Black Fireworks,” pieces of the track sound ripped from a Belle & Sebastian project. But not for long. As with most tracks, no consecutive minute maintains a cohesive sound. The band’s stylistic bat-turns have always impressed me more than anything. Breaking a synthesized bosa-nova to launch into a five-part harmony is ideal for those with short attention spans. Similarly, Barnes’s penchant for packing a myriad of allusions into his lyrics (“Art Snob Solutions,” “The Actor’s Opprobrium”) is entirely reminiscent of the conversational masturbation engaged in by precocious college freshman who name-drop authors and ideologies newly discovered in mandatory seminars.
In recent years, Kevin Barnes and crew have moved the dance party past ’60s psychedelia through the disco of the ’70s (“Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer?”) and are now faltering to adequately convey the funk of the ’80s (“False Priest”). For me, “Sunlandic Twins” with its darling harmonies, cheeky falsetto and general fun retains the sweet memory of a first love.