Review Summary: Constructed in segments, Skeletal Lamping is meant to be an inconsistent record, sure, but the problem lies in how disastrously it affects quality.
I liked Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
a lot, but not enough. Of Montreal have always been a band that I liked but never loved, with albums that were good but never great. With Hissing Fauna
, leading man Kevin Barnes seemed to be headed in the right direction; the first half of the record was near baroque pop-perfection, a sweetly, unabashedly gay delight. And then that weighty middle section and twelve-minute disco romp happens, where Barnes transforms into his alternate stage persona, the black, middle-aged transsexual, Georgie Fruit. It debunks most of that good favor that Barnes never fully recovers from.
picks up roughly where “We Were Born the Mutants Again with Leafling” ended and falters quickly thereafter. “Nonpareil of Favor,” beginning with medieval strings, dropping into shuffling pianos before shifting into sweet metal riffz, is one of the album’s few sufferable moments until it fails in the same way Skeletal Lamping
does for its elongated running time: unedited artistic ambition. (“We could do it softcore if you want / but you should know I go both ways” is never
a good idea.)
Constructed in segments, Skeletal Lamping
is meant to be an inconsistent record, sure, but the problem lies in how disastrously it affects quality. Taking a few cues from soul, funk, psychedlica and good ol’ messy, tried-and-true indie rock, it seems Georgie has never met an idea he couldn’t pilfer. Pilfer is the key word here: not once does Skeletal Lamping
feel real, vital, a record meant to evoke the hidden demons that Barnes is battling with (skeletal: his personal fantasies; lamping: revealing those secrets). It might be there in the lyrics (the acoustic interludes under Barnes’ layered falsetto in “Death Is Not a Parallel Move” seem to suggest some inkling of actual emotion) but they’re lost behind a shifting landscape that would pull the rug out from beneath our feet if there were even a floor to begin with.
There are glimpses of promise that I had so desperately clung on to with Hissing Fauna
but they’re mostly resigned to moments left over from Barnes’ discography. “Mingusings” is an immediately striking dance tune, all bassline and soul, the sparse electronic strings finally falling out for the climactic drumbeat. “When we get together / it’s hot magic” in “Wicked Wisdom” is an undeniably affectionate moment undone by a dip into freak folk. “Gallery Piece” has pure R&B on its side, and if it weren’t for Barnes’ overbearing falsetto that is too showy for an already showy soul throwback, the song would be an album highlight.
As bad as the song is, the dip into piano balladry for “Touched Something’s Hollow” suggests a depth unfounded here (“Why am I so damaged? / Why am I so troubled?”). Hissing Fauna
was heralded for its balancing act: Barnes’ introspective tales and his wham-bam, everything-goes style. What could have been an eye-opening glimpse into the fractured mind that created it, Skeletal Lamping
lacks a satisfactory, uh, idea
. None are progressed, thoroughly provoked, just simply thrown out the speakers in hopes that we are transfixed by its oh-so literal translation of Barnes’ Georgie Fruit act. And like all bad horror films, album closer/first single “Id Engager” ends on a promiscuous, uninterrupted note that suggests another raucous follow-up.
Count me out.