Music Reviews
The Sunlandic Twins

Of Montreal The Sunlandic Twins

(Polyvinyl) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

It looks like Kevin Barnes is simplifying things. On older Of Montreal albums, he couldn't go more than two bars without a chord change, and his melodies would hop intervals like Mexican jumping beans. He got pegged as a 60's throwback, but this was always a little misleading, because while childlike whimsy, baroque arrangements and tight harmonies were staples of the psychedelic era, few bands attempted stretching the pop form to the breaking point where Of Montreal resides. Sure, you can trace a lot of this right back to Pet Sounds and Odyssey and Oracle, and Barnes insistence on cementing his production technique in the fall of 1967 means that the label will likely stick. Yet a more suitable reference point may be the Dukes of the Stratosphere, XTC's alter ego 60's tribute band. Andy Partridge is more a direct predecessor than Brian Wilson.

The band's output has been so dense and layered that it usually takes multiple, and I mean multiple, listens to absorb them. Recently however, and on The Sunlandic Twins especially, Barnes has toned down the Double Jeopardy challenge for the Who Wants to be a Millionaire $64,000 question, meaning that while we don't have to slog through a doctorate thesis, it's still not going to be a cakewalk. Here, there are numerous points of entry for the uninitiated. Right off the bat, Requiem for O.m.m.2 announces the more straightforward, less elliptical approach. The tune is a keeper, yet its sound, still rooted in the 60's, doesn't prepare you for the decade leap forward heard on I Was Never Young. Am I tripping, or is that disco? The next several tunes seem culled from a lost collection of great 70's B-sides from the Bay City Rollers (Art Snob Solutions, Everyday Feels Like Sunday) to Brian Eno (Knight Rider), while the heavy reliance on drum machine for Barnes' mostly one man show results in some nearly danceable beats.

Lest you think this was Of Montreal's play for the big time, think again. Barnes' inscrutable evasiveness forever dooms them to obscurity. This is where I find the band both fascinating and frustrating. Barnes seems to draw from a bottomless well of creativity, and is capable of the most sublimely unexpected melodic phrasing. At the same time, he can come off as a little too intellectual for his own good. Of Montreal walks this tightrope constantly and you are comforted by the fact that while the delivery may be so precise as to leave you cold, you at least can stimulate your brain deciphering the tunes.

But that's what separates the near great from the transcendent. Of Montreal has yet to consistently achieve the latter for the length of a whole CD. Still, if they keep churning out near great records year after year, well, that's something, isn't it?