Review Summary: Conventionally unconventional.
Give Kevin Barnes this; he’s never been one to make things easy. Given his sizable discography and the vast array of styles he’s traversed over the decades, it’s a minor miracle that there’s barely a hint of repetition among of Montreal’s work. Aureate Gloom
continues an unusually focused stretch for the famously prolific artist – 2013’s Lousy with Sylvianbriar
brought Barnes back to recording with a full band, lending the proceedings a vitality and an easy confidence that more than made up for the atypically conventional song structures. That confidence continues onto Aureate Gloom
, an album that sounds nothing like its predecessor (as always, par for the course), save for the full band disclaimer, and in its tortuous psychedelic passages, garishly painted glam rock and valiantly irregular arrangements you see how Barnes is working new ground here, melding his bizarre and labyrinthine compositions into something that can be played by a live band. Yet where Barnes has so often seemed to forge new musical paths where none previously appeared, Aureate Gloom
sounds more like the songwriter taking a hacksaw to a particularly tiresome knot. It searches in vain for something, anything, to make it interesting, to make something pop.
When “Bassem Sabry,” about the recently deceased Egyptian journalist, leaps out of the speakers with a breezy funk rhythm and bursts of interstitial fuzz, Barnes sounds much like he did on Lousy with Sylvianbriar
, invigorated and passionate. That Barnes is looking out of himself is a relief on its own; life inside Barnes’ mind, as so many listeners have found over the past years, can be a little suffocating. At other times the relief in is the record’s adventuring spirit. It’s reassuring to hear a song like “Monolithic Egress” and see all the little, intricate cogs in the Kevin Barnes machine, shifting and locking seamlessly in the context of a pretty kickass rock band. Sometimes this works – “Estocadas” is particularly beautiful, a concise bit of dense symphonic rock. Yet it’s the type of relief from seeing something dangerous and skillful you’ve seen done before successfully attempted again. Soon you can see the seams starting to show, as they do on the languid, dragging “Aluminum Crown,” and the by-the-numbers exploration of “Like Ashoka’s Inferno Of Memory,” which, in its multifaceted suite structure, stops and starts, and multiple phases sounds like the band furiously checking off every genre exercise they missed over the last nine songs.
As fresh and undeniably energetic as the band sounds here, the songs lack the simple verse-chorus-verse elegance and full-bodied melodicism of his last effort, too often thrusting forward, not just looking to satiate Barnes’ customary rollercoaster of emotional chaos but also looking for that next hit of spontaneity, a spark that is too often missing here. Taken apart into its individual pieces, Aureate Gloom
appears a success; its tracks loose and brave, taking reckless turns and twists in arriving at a uniquely Barnesian place. As a whole, it’s a record that twists and turns itself into repetition, a hodgepodge of styles and aimless attempts at diversion that tread water more than they make a sail and actually go somewhere. A bubbly rave-up like “Empyrean Abattoir,” which escalates off its aerated rhythm into a furiously catchy kiss-off, is simply an example of Barnes’ silver ear for a tune – in this respect, it stands out. It’s the exception that proves the rule on an album full of songs that sound like ghosts of older, better of Montreal songs. Instead, Aureate Gloom
distinguishes itself in Barnes’ catalog as its own inexplicable set of contradictions: a record rendered inert and sabotaged by its own ambitions.