In the video for Of Montreal's latest single, "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse," frontman Bryan Poole plays the role of an aggressive dancing bear who loves cowboy hats. Unlike previous installments of Of Montreal's summery and somewhat detached absurdist oeuvre, these latest developments are in large part a product of the deep postpartum depression experienced by songwriter Kevin Barnes in 2006. On unofficial paternity leave in Norway with his partner, Nina, Barnes wrote much of the album in the midst of a desolate winter. The result is the haunting album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
So what could be a more natural progression for the band than to provide the music for a national ad campaign for Outback Steakhouse? Almost anything else seems to be the response from fans, many of whom were sure the announcement was a hoax. The blog-osphere erupted with cries of protest. Barnes later commented that the band thought it would be funny to hear a major corporation render his song, "Wraith Pinned To The Mist (and Other Games)," as a jingle.
It turns out he was right. Hearing one of America's most lyrically adventurous, high-concept bands singing, "Let's go Outback tonight" is deeply humorous a case of goring the indie rock sacred cow, then grilling it up on the barbie, mate!
Poole, the ersatz bear, spoke with New Times via telephone from a Detroit luncheonette. Friendly and witty, he reflects the band's tendency to react to the world in a literal, if somewhat discombobulated, way. "Driving in today ... Detroit is kind of like Beirut, with old, bombed-out buildings. It's like they never recovered from the riots.
"We're right next door to a bowling alley and a bar where there's a band sound-checking," he says. "We saw a torn up bus in the middle of the street with its suspension hanging out and white smoke coming out of the vents."
Poole says he can hear okay, despite the neighboring band's rough attempts at a Clash song. "We're going through a more soulful phase," he explains when asked what band members have been listening to on the first leg of their North American tour. Specifically he sounds thrilled with a gift he recently received from Barnes: an album by Jamaican reggae and dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry. Actually the soul, Afrobeat, and disco influences have been growing more apparent over the band's last three albums. Hissing Fauna is at once the band's most introspective and most danceable record. According to Poole their instrumentation onstage remains mostly unchanged, with him and Barnes sharing vocal and guitar duties, a drummer doubling on keyboard, a dedicated bassist, and a keyboardist playing the occasional trumpet and cowbell (the latter, Poole says, has been getting phenomenal reactions from their crowds).
Though pleasantly warped in its lyrical and instrumental sensibilities, Of Montreal is certainly not the only band out there embracing the weird. Its live shows have often included elaborate between-song skits to break up the traditional rock show structure. But make no mistake: for all the hijinx, Of Montreal is a rock and roll band. Beneath the wordy song titles and trademark primitive-surreal album art, you can nearly always find a catchy tune.
With Barnes's and Poole's winsome, Kinks-ish, Pavement-like singing, and arrangements firmly rooted in 1967-era Beatles, Of Montreal seems to have a major hurdle to clear: Can they shake the labels "derivative" and "pretentious"? Their answer would be: Why bother? Of Montreal seems possessed of the knowledge that derivation and pretentiousness, when carried to the proper extremes, morph into invention and honesty.
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