"Then Lecithin Emulsifier, an inventor who appeared on the last album [1999's The Gay Parade] says he'll take them away to a frozen island and create this special world for them."
I want to live in his world. Who wouldn't? It's an alarming, primary-color cavalcade of sweet love and baby spiders who like pudding (without raisins). In the tradition of the concept albums of mid-'60s Brits, Of Montreal makes amazing records that tell elaborately kooky stories with their shiny-boots-n-Peter Max chord textures.
Their latest release, Horse & Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed)/The Singles & Songles Album, is a collection of songs from other recordings. Every feeling it evokes is warm and homey, from barbershop quartets to pre-sexual revolution pop to beautifully trippy, modern fairytales. Most of all, there's a brazenly charming purity to every note. It's a purity that, on the surface, seems wondrous and bright-eyed--a guileless children's story. But it's not simple at all; Of Montreal's gazing, mewling art hasn't a trace of naivete or irony. As Barnes says, "We are not writing songs about kickball or Kool-Aid, and we spend a lot of time on the music and arranging the songs."
Horse and Elephant Eatery's opening track, playfully titled "A Celebration of H. Hare," is an ode to Barnes' brother, resplendent with strings, radiant harmonies, a tambourine, and a gleamingly sincere chorus of "I love you/And I know that you love me, too," That is so fucking adorable. Really. Those lyrics, an unfaltering testament to two siblings' bonds in maturity, can only be the words of the fabulously unjaded.
"We want to make really colorful, happy, positive music. We're trying to create a better world that's more pleasant than the world we live in. A crazy new inventive world," says Barnes.
Their world contains more than a little love. From "The Problem with April," a deceptively happy song about the desolation that follows a lover's departure, to "Spoonful of Sugar," a little valentine with a heartbreakingly simple chorus ("She's so sweet/To me"), Of Montreal reworks the typical relationship lyric into a sweet, swoony gem.
Barnes' way with stories is more like picture book author Eric Carle's or Jon Scieszka's than most of his musical contemporaries. In "Ira's Brief Life as a Spider," he tells of a mute baby spider who dies because he drinks from a lake on his tongue. The nurses who find him hold a funeral with a "brief but moving requiem." The spider is later reincarnated.
"My songs, for the most part, are me trying to create a world that my brother could illustrate. I'm always thinking, 'What would it look like if Dave drew it?" says Barnes. Dave Barnes, who illustrates Of Montreal's album covers and designs their props, joins them on this tour.
The colorful play-acts in Of Montreal's music are present in their live performances, as well. Their endearing skits are a well thought-out extravaganza of thematic storytelling, complete with otherworldly, candy-apple backdrops, and a spritely arsenal of instruments and character. On last year's Gay Parade tour, they began their show by marching through the bar, parade-style, shouting and playing kazoos. Barnes, the grease-moustached emcee of the event, introduced it with a rousing, faux Cockney accent: "We're Of Montreal, and welcome to the Gaaaaaay Parade!"
"We naturally enjoy that sort of thing. Dave encourages us. We want something that makes us stand out a bit cause there are so many rock bands. We want something special," says Barnes.
Something special, indeed. Though the content of this tour's spunky musical skits is a secret (for the surprise factor), rest assured it has something to do with detectives, organ grinders, and props. After all, a sparklingly mysterious world inhabited by efeblums and sweet old inventors certainly needs a lot of flora.