Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes on new album, playing Aspen
If You Go …
What: Of Montreal
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Monday, March 30, 9 p.m.
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Within a single song there might be elements of glam rock, prog, funk, punk and psychedelia. Released early this month, the record is Of Montreal’s 13th since its 1997 debut, “Cherry Peel,” and sixth since the 2007 breakout “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” As has been the case through the band’s reign of psych-pop and indie rock, front man Kevin Barnes — the only constant Of Montreal member, and sometimes its only member — is the center of the action.
“Basically, it’s an open journal set to prog rock,” Barnes said from his home in Athens, Georgia, before heading out on a national tour supporting the new album. “That’s the way I describe it.”
The journal he’s opened up in song largely addresses his separation from his wife of more than a decade, though mostly in the less-than-literal, skewed perspective that fans have come to expect from Barnes’ confessional style. He wrote the songs over the course of eight months or so on the road, in Athens and at a writing retreat in Newark, N.J. as he mulled over the end of the relationship.
A jolly grab bag of ’70s sounds counterbalance the heavy lyrical content. The album opener, “Bassem Sabry,” for example, launches with a kick-down-the-door Black Sabbath-esque guitar, but quickly opens up into a foot-stomping funky disco section — complete with hand claps and backup singers — in an infectiously catchy composition that somehow turns thorny lyrics like “The mutinous tramp of cold voltage crucifixion is my conduit” into sing-along lines.
Of Montreal works a strange alchemy on “Aureate Gloom” and its 10 complex, genre-schizophrenic songs.
Barnes was listening to a lot of ’70s-era punk and guitar rock as he wrote these songs, he said, and let that sound bleed into “Aureate Gloom.”
“I love the raw, immediate aspect of that music,” he said. “But I was also listening to a lot of Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, King Crimson — heavier guitar music. I wanted to incorporate that into the sound. I haven’t explored that much before, but I’ve always been interested in that virtuosic guitar playing. It’s almost like a caveman virtuosity, where it’s tricky but at the same time, it feels like the guitar player has all thumbs or something.”
The new song “Like Ashoka’s Inferno of Memory” opens with an ambient, droning guitar and Barnes’ voice before it breaks into a propulsive riff reminiscent of Jimmy Page’s from “Immigrant Song,” then finally breaks apart into a section of melodic guitar interludes that are punctuated with fusillades of that harsh “all thumbs” guitar. It comes to a close with a coda of three-part harmony, ooh-aahs and a hooky Kinks-styled rock.
Given all the new songs’ intricacies, it’s a wonder that “Aureate Gloom” was recorded live to tape. To make the album, Barnes and his current cast of bandmates went to Sonic Ranch studio outside El Paso, Texas. Taking a cue from the analog ’70s recordings he’d been immersed in, Barnes had the band record live together, rather than piecing their parts together bit-by-bit with ProTools after the fact. The old-school approach — which Barnes also used for a previous album, 2013’s bluesy “Lousy with Sylvianbriar” — lends the album a garage-rock sheen.
“Just the vibe you can create when you approach it in that way, I think, is really special,” Barnes said. “It has an immediacy to it, a spontaneity to it, that you can’t really create if you’re slaving over the recordings for months and months and working on a computer.
They finished recording all the songs they’d planned to after just 10 days, leaving the band with about four extra days of studio time before their flights left Texas. With the free time, they wrote and recorded a handful more, including “Apollyon Of Blue Room,” which made it onto the new album.
An additional seven songs also are in the can, according to Barnes. He expects to have enough material together by summer for an album, though it’s unlikely Of Montreal’s record label, Polyvinyl, will release another one so closely on the heels of “Aureate Gloom.”
“I want to keep putting them out as fast as possible and keep moving,” Barnes said. “That’s what’s a drag about it. You put out a record and you’re really excited about it; that it expresses what you’re going through at that time. Then you sit on it for five months. And by the time the record comes out, it doesn’t feel new anymore. It’s just like, ‘Oh yeah, those things.’”
On Monday, the band makes its Aspen debut at Belly Up, in what promises to be a highlight of the local spring music calendar. Of Montreal’s live shows have evolved into legendarily immersive, psychedelic productions over the years.
“There are comedic moments, beautiful moments, there’s abstract, bizarre moments,” Barnes said. “I think of it like a new form of musical theater.”
The current incarnation of Of Montreal’s live set is a multimedia production that includes animation projected onto different materials that complement the new songs.
“There’s never a static moment on stage,” Barnes said. “There’s a lot of movement, with theatrical aspects. It’s difficult to describe. … It works with the music because there’s so much detail work in the music. Having a visual component to that, I think, is a very powerful experience.”
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