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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Of Montreal
The Sunlandic Twins
Polyvinyl Records

Rating: 9/10 ?

June 22, 2005
Within a year's time, Kevin Barnes, wearing his Of Montreal garb, has made me almost officially lose my mind - twice. First with Satanic Panic in the Attic and now - just when I caught my breath - The Sunlandic Twins has knocked me cross-eyed to the ground with my foot once again tapping rhythmically.
I've tried to explain my strange and almost reluctant attraction to something as eclectic as Of Montreal to many of those who have ventured into my bunker of an apartment and heard the tunes emanating through my stereo. Most have given me that "you're a good friend, but an odd one" glare and went about their business. The truth is, Of Montreal isn't for everyone; many seem unable to tolerate the high tone of Kevin Barnes' vocals, writing it off immediately as some strange art-rock project for weirdoes like me. However there are many who, immediately infected by it, giggle and get to shaking their posteriors in due form. Admittedly, I was one of those.

Even though Of Montreal's latest effort, The Sunlandic Twins, is well along on their release tally, my introduction to the band was last year's Satanic Panic in the Attic, which evoked just such a Panic beneath my skull (minus the Satanism). The album was all over the place, giving no restful peace to any previous musical "style" whatsoever. Every notion was blended into a wonderful foot-tapping brew of nearly sickeningly addictive bliss-pop that proved to be a breakthrough for the Athens, GA outfit. It seems that all the same, wonderfully beneficial chemicals have been thrown into the formula for The Sunlandic Twins - for the most part.

On this album, Barnes has enlisted the help of the computer world and composed mostly danceable ditties that meld 60s pop with an 80s new wave backbeat - the result being an extremely catchy dance record with a hellish amount of hooks that swim around in your brain for hours. However, not all the tracks here are completely reliant on electronic elements, as there are a couple that stick to generally organic instrumentation, or at least an earthy sound. But whether or not Barnes is pushing buttons on the drum machine has little effect on the credibility of his composition skills; there is no loss of melody as he drapes plenty of layers to be discovered and inspected with every listen. Above all, this record is about great songs - in both the traditional and in the modern sense.

Right off the bat, "Requiem For O.M.M.2" crashes in with a quick-fingered, hopping bass line, coupled with some high, twangy guitar chords, and played to the pace reminiscent of the Beach Boys; the foot starts tapping. Then you realize it's just the verse, and by the time the chorus hits you're doomed to thrash around and do some weird personal variation of the twist. In truth, this really is an odd way to introduce this album - with real drums, and familiar territory - it is quite good, but definitely not a true sign of what's to come on this disc.

The tribal intro of "I Was Never Young" kicks in with a drum machine pattern that gets straightened out by the aid of a guitar in a weird mexicali rhythm, which eventually switches patterns, varying heavily, only to return for a quick ending. This is the scattered genius I was hoping for.

Nothing could have prepared me for "Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games." The song builds from a simple bass line with an electro kick drum and gives birth to a vocal line that's quickly etched into your mind - "Let's pretend we don't exist/Let's pretend we're in Antarctica." At this point, with the simple drum machine loops and stripped down melodic progressions, it's noticeable that this is an Of Montreal that gets straight to the point and has kind of strayed away from jumping around excessively. It shows they are just as effective getting to B straight from A instead of making a couple stops along the way. This song is refreshingly direct, sticking to one rhythm and dropping one wonderful layer onto another; it picks up to great heights and never loses its catchy roots.

The real flagship of the album, however, could very easily be "So Begins Our Alabee." The track opens with an eclectic beat pattern, coupled with melodic vocal scales, and straightens out to a pre-verse which instrumentally could be culled from any number of Megaman video games - its single piano note is hammered repetitively and intertwined with a funk guitar line as spacey synth lines mesh with a straightforward drum machine beat. The song quickly hits the new wave electro-disco crescendo, "never want to be your/little friendly abject failure," which is so insanely catchy it certifies the album in and of itself.

The actual structure to is not wizardry - it just doesn't screw around: a short intro, one verse to get the interest going then a chorus to drive the whole thing home. Brilliant. I wanted to be incredibly critical of this album because Satanic Panic in the Attic was amazing, garnering so much worthy attention; I thought this would be a quick and diluted follow-up to keep the ball rolling. The Sunlandic Twins has dashed any notion of a decline. The rhythms, melodic layers and smart vocal lines are far too much for a music lover to handle. Of Montreal obviously has a lock on everything tasty in today's music.

That's not to say it's a perfect album; a realization comes with "Knight Rider", which fulfills an instrumental transitional role for "I Was A Landscape In Your Dream," - a much slower, more contemplative and hushed track that would have served perfectly as the last track on the album. Its sweet, melancholy feeling is a heartfelt goodbye in one regard, but is just a prelude to strange and uncomfortable songs to come.

The next four tracks are an essentially silly, marking a self-indulgent trip through Barnes' private haunted house in the Attic and bringing down the entire mood and theme of the album. With this statement, it's as if most of the album was recorded and regretted. I'm not sure if there was an intent to form a thematic and dramatic ending in this way, but if so, it doesn't work. The songs aren't terrible, but they do take you entirely away from the direction you were headed the whole time.

To be honest, after discovering the lost trail, I don't listen to these songs; though it might make me a shallow music listener, it can't be helped. All the memories of the previous half an hour or so are so much sweeter than being dragged unwillingly to some dark dungeon of abruptly chopped choral lines and crashing intrusive beats. It is my choice to return to the rest, not allowing myself to be carried into the darkness.

I can only hope that the tone of the majority of this album is one Of Montreal chooses to stick to, unless they choose to make an entirely dark album with some consistency. Things take a considerable and noticeable turn for the garishly cheesy when this album tries to be immensely dramatic; I can't help but feel that this is ending is foreshadowing to their next effort. It might pain Barnes to hear that his forte in songwriting lies in creating a light hearted soundscape where people can run barefoot and be carefree, dancing idiots - but it might also brighten his day to hear that he doesn't have to get all ominous and heavy-handed for people to respect his ability to write interesting and innovative music. Regardless of its ending, however, the amount of incredibly catchy and well-written songs on The Sunlandic Twins makes it a must. On the whole, The Sunlandic Twins makes almost everything else today seem diluted and stale.

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