Tag Archives: of Montreal

EP review: of Montreal – "The Controllersphere"

This EP picks up exactly where “False Priest” left off. I mean that in the most literal way possible. This release can be viewed as an addendum to their last full length offering that was released not 7 months ago. “The Controllersphere” is 5 full tracks worth of Kevin Barnes trying out some of his more daring ideas, heading off in directions that aren’t explored in previous albums and possibly giving us a look at what is to come. This seems to be the way that of Montreal likes to do things now, releasing an album and not too long after its release more tracks that might appeal to their more ardent fans are presented. It was the case with “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” of 2006 where “Icons, Abstract Thee” followed. Also “Sunlandic Twins” featured a bonus EP as did “Skeletal Lamping”.

This release is the third that takes its name from one line of “Faberge Falls for Shuggie”, which appears on their breakthrough release “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” In a way one can draw a line through these three releases, “Skeletal Lamping”, “False Priest” and “The Controllersphere”. This trilogy can really represent a new direction for of Montreal that saw Kevin Barnes becoming significantly more influenced by psychedelic rock and funk and allowing those influences to really take shape in his songwriting.

The opening track, “Black Lion Massacre” takes the ideas of “False Priest”’s “You Do Mutilate?” and creates another freakishly frightening sonic landscape with the spoken word coming down to us through a backdrop of apocalyptically overdriven noise and feedback. A sort of live energy side of of Montreal that is rarely captured on disc is evident here, drenched in the noise of caterwauling guitars and drums that are wild and  more present than usual. As is usual with of Montreal releases some of the tracks have rather eccentric titles, such as “Flunkt Sass vs. The Root Plume”. The track starts off innocently enough with a gently strummed acoustic guitar appearing for all of ten seconds before exploding into a tripped out, layered nightmare that is perfectly depicted by the cover art, which is done again by Kevin’s brother David. The song continues to build as Barnes screams out in his best Ziggy Stardust, sounding like he is re-entering the atmosphere after space travel without the aid or protection of a shuttle. The screaming, loud, live sound is present in this track as well, like the first.

of Montreal - "The Controllersphere"

Lyrically the themes that of Montreal has been exploring for some time now like loneliness, unrequited love, feelings of insanity and obsession, are explored throughout this EP. The line “Even this ghetto world that has nothing, doesn’t want me” appears in “Flunkt Sass vs. The Root Plume” explores themes previously broached, but the added volume and noise adds a new dimension and desperation to the sadness. The insanity is dialed up to a breaking point, it’s like Kevin Barnes’ primal scream captured on record.

“Holiday Call” is a soulful, spiritual track that is based on folk elements, though those elements are somewhat buried beneath quite a bit of the usual panoply of psychedelia. At over 8 minutes long it is the lengthiest track, allowing for a very interesting turn of events at about the halfway mark that conurs up the sounds of middle eastern folk music with a repeated fiddle gesture, placing the usually busy, up-front bass in a more secondary role. Barnes mentioned via his twitter stream (@xxofmontrealxx) upon release of this EP that it was heavily folk influenced, and that was the direction in which he was going to be heading. He is certainly a man of his word, as odd and unbelievable as that word may often be, he manages to make it happen.

The changes in mood on this EP are more sudden, like the entire “Skeletal Lamping” album, which comprised songs that were seemingly comprised of several short songs melded together. Unlike “Skeletal Lamping” the songs here are still cohesive, and more or less similar in sound to those that appear on “False Priest”. “L’Age D’Or” and “Slave Translator” are definitely spawns of the funk of that album.  Each track is rather wordy. Barnes rushes to fit them all in, even more so than usual. He screams like his body is being torn apart from the inside out one minute and the next is harmonizing sweetly with himself. “The Controllersphere” ends where it began, in a wall of noise. This is a powerful 5 track EP that delivers exactly what was promised not too long after “False Priest was released. of Montreal is great at creating a world of their own both on record and live where their shows are theatrical spectacles concocted from the mind of Kevin and David Barnes. It seems fitting that Polyvinyl is releasing this EP concurrently with a book of David Barnes’ artwork entitled “What’s Weird?”, which I’m sure would be a perfect companion to this release.

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/02-of-Montreal-Flunkt-Sass-vs-the-Root-Plume.mp3|titles=Flunkt Sass vs the Root Plume]

A few cover songs

I’m not going to say anything overbearing like that these are the best cover songs, or that these are my top 5 cover songs of all time. Instead I just want to share a few that I have enjoyed recently. Some of them are more familiar to me and closer to my heart than the originals, and there’s one that I didn’t even realize was a cover until not too long ago. Check them out below.

Japandroids – “Racer X”

Japandroids - "Art Czars" single
Japandroids - "Art Czars" 7"

Vancouver’s Japandroids did something interesting when they didn’t have time to get into the studio because of a relentless touring schedule. I swear that they have played 300 shows a year for the past 2 years. They are insane. Their energy comes through in their music, that much is evident. Anyway, in lieu of putting out another full length album they opted to release a series of limited edition 7″ singles. The A side would be an out-take from their “Post-Nothing” sessions and each B side would be a cover song. A great PR gambit, because the steady release of singles means that they never really go away, which will buy them some much needed time to write and record another album, and, of course, tour some more.

Their cover of Big Black’s “Racer X” captures all of the sneering aggression of the young Steve Albini. These two guys can make as much noise as any band and they really capture the energy of this track. The robotic drumming of Roland, the famous Big Black Roland 606 drum machine that was used by Albini and Co., is brought to life by David Prowse, while the brittle, ringing guitar tone faithfully reproduced by Brian King.

Japandroids – Racer-X

Matthew Good – “Moon Over Marin”

Matthew Good - "Hospital Music"

It’s actually kind of funny to me that I came to know Matthew Good’s version of “Moon Over Marin” before I knew the original. I was a fan of the Dead Kennedys long before I ever even heard of Good.

This track originally appeared on DK’s “Plastic Surgery Disasters” and featured their signature sound of East Bay Ray’s surf-rock inspired, yet still undoubtedly punk rock, ultra-distorted guitar and Jello Biafra’s warbly half spoken, half sung vocals. The lyrics speak very matter of factly about the pollution problem in the Marin area of California. Naturally Biafra’s lyrics go a little bit over the top, bringing attention to a problem by exaggerating, though that kind of extrapolation is what makes punk rock fun. You need to have something to fight about.

Good’s version, though leaving the original lyrics untouched, takes a different angle. The album that this track appears on, “Hospital Music”, are all very heartfelt songs written after a dark period in Good’s life following a nervous breakdown. He takes a gentle, slower approach to the song that still fits the lyrics as well as remaining true to the general spirit of the album. His rendition gives the effect of someone that is sort of detached from their surroundings, realizing that all of these terrible things are happening around him and almost willing to accept it. Though, knowing Matthew Good’s politics, I know that he is not willing to accept these things. This is an interesting look at how the world’s problems feel through someone that wants to do something, but is temporarily powerless. Sometimes taking care of yourself is more important than any problems around you.

Moon Over Marin

The Flaming Lips – “(What a) Wonderful World”

The Flaming Lips - "In a Priest Driven Ambulance"

Before they were able to fill arenas with their over the top stage show they were a really noisy psych. rock band that sounded like they took more acid than Syd Barrett on a bad day. Before they really solidified their sound with milestone albums like “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” they were a cult band that sounded like a 2nd rate Butthole Surfers. Freak rock for the freaks.

I realize that I am disregarding the fact that they recently released a cover album (yes, an entire album) of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. It’s an ok album. Worth a listen, for sure, but I wanted to bring to your attention something a bit more obscure. If it wasn’t for Wayne Coyne’s very recognizable voice, you probably wouldn’t realize that this is the same band. Wayne and Louis Armstrong share a certain characteristic of singing voice….that is to say Wayne has always sounded like he was on the verge of losing his voice and Louis Armstrong probably should have stuck to the trumpet. But, I realize that is really unfair of me to say. The honesty in their voices is really what makes this track work. Something is lost if someone is to sing this song with a pretty voice, polished and “nice”. This song truly speaks with an honest, untrained voice. Of course, all the noisy guitars and feedback certainly helps bring this song up to date for a much younger audience. It’s a great cover if you haven’t heard it before, take a listen.

(What A) Wonderful World

James Husband – “We Can Work It Out”

James Husband

James Husband, multi-instrumentalist for of Montreal, released his solo debut “A Parallax I” late last year and packaged with it an EP of covers, “Smothered in Covers”. He does a great job with all of the tracks, including this one originally by, obviously, The Beatles.

It is rather daring to attempt to cover The Beatles as the songs are so familiar to everyone. So much so I think that all of their songs are pretty much in our collective subconscious. I think that covering a Beatles tune is a very delicate process because of this. You need to do something original, but nothing too crazy. You need to stick to the original song, but you don’t want it to sound exactly like it, otherwise what would be the point? There is very little room for error. You don’t want to make it sound like you are trying to improve on it because Beatles songs are, quite honestly, perfection.

That being said what Jamie does here is about as good as it gets when covering The Beatles. He leaves room for little silences and lets the song breathe a little bit. What is really effective though, in my opinion, is the way that he plays with the timing of the song. There is this very subtle rubato in place that seems to keep leaning back in the beat. He relaxes the tempo quite a bit, but he doesn’t swing it. It’s really what the song needs. That is saying something, for sure. He managed to keep everything in place and create a little something new. It’s one of my favorite covers for sure, and I think that it is almost as effective as the original track. If you only listen to one of these, listen to this one.

We Can Work It Out

The Dillinger Escape Plan – “Jesus Christ Pose”

The Dillinger Escape Plan - "Plagiarism"

This track is the reason that I even wanted to write this post. I was listening to my iTunes “5 star” playlist and this track came up. I then proceeded to listen to it 6 times in a row as I walked around town doing all the stuff that I needed to do. I was thinking to myself, “Wow, this track is what Soundgarden was trying to do!” This version adds some balls to the guitars, thickens up the distortion and really drives everything home. The vocals are right on, the drummer out drums Matt Cameron. Everything is just perfect here. They really don’t try to do anything new with the track, they are just covering it and happen to be able to do it better than the original. Phenomenal. I can’t really say anything else about this track. I hope that my enthusiasm gets you to give it a listen.

Jesus Christ Pose (Cover of Soundgarden)

Coming up this weekend….

It is that time of year again!

Time to bake in the Chicago sun for the annual Pitchfork Music Festival! I have been attending the festival since 2006. During that time I have seen several amazing bands, met many people and always had a great time. It was during this festival in 2006 that I realized that seeing live music was very important to me and it is a great experience to discover new music in a live setting. When I first went to the festival it was a scant 2 days long, now it has expanded with the help of All Tomorrow’s Parties to 3 days (though the first day is about a quarter as long as the other 2).

It was during this festival in the past few years that I came to love the music of The Futureheads, Spoon, Liars, Yo La Tengo, Dirty Projectors, and of Montreal. I also will never forget amazing performances by Girl Talk, Spiritualized, Sonic Youth, Os Mutantes, Silver Jews, Caribou, Dan Deacon, Stephen Malkmus and countless others.

It is so much more than just a music festival too. There is the flatstock poster convention too, which features gig posters by many different artists that are there to talk to and purchase posters from. I make it a habit of getting Jay Ryan’s Pitchfork poster every year. I really love his work. It is highly recognizable and he is also based out of Chicago, so he is more or less a hometown hero as well. I’m still upset that I didn’t begin this tradition until 2007, and I can’t find a 2006 poster anywhere, but such is life. Perhaps someday it will show up on ebay.

I will be twittering (www.twitter.com/quartertonality) throughout the weekend, that is certain. In addition to this I will be trying to see as many bands as humanly possible. I would estimate that I will catch somewhere between 20 to 25 sets over the weekend.  My only hope is that the weather is great. Rain would really put a serious damper on the fun. Other things I’m looking forward to:

-after-shows at Schubas or the Empty Bottle or something (I was actually so tired last year, or was it the year before?, that I fell asleep at a Twilight Sad concert at Schubas)

-record shopping at permanent records, which is located conveniently around the corner from my brother’s place, where I am staying

-meeting my brother’s new cat Dr. Pirate.

-vinyl shopping at the festival (all the labels have booths set up and it was a completely random purchase at the Sub-Pop booth in 2006 that introduced me to the awesomeness that is the Constantines….I really need to buy more of their stuff come to think of it)

So much more. I will be posting pictures and videos here as well as to my youtube and flickr pages. If I have time and am not too exhausted I will post them immediately, but I may wait until the weekend is over. Sorry, I am not a slave to the immediacy of the internet. Please stay tuned.