My mother-in-law was big on accusing people "just being like that" when they exhibit aberrant behavior, and while I, on paper, believe we all should follow our bliss, the evidence for the preponderance for like-that-be-ers is overwhelming. Grown man friends of mine with taste and command of their lives will openly confess to watching American Idol. Drivers will run me off the road rather than let me merge in a spot they had never before wished to occupy. College students find Jesus, adopting a lifestyle that befits decrepit codgers of my vintage, letting all their sweet invulnerability wither on the vine. Just being like that, that's what these people are doing. No wonder we have a climate of conservatism when this is what people do with their discretionary time.
My allegiance to those blazing absurd trails has been a constant barrier to my outward success as an American human for nearly four decades now, but who can you look up to anymore? All my favorite thinkers were game for the wild goose chase. Buckminster Fuller often mused about pirates as the Fully Actualized Person; Lester Bangs bound himself by the veins to insectoid misanthropes like Lou Reed to just fucking feel something, anything, nothing. Mark E Smith of The Fall has long been my touchstone, a public figure you wouldn't put in a book because they would sound contrived. His contrariness, not maliciousness but contrariness radiated from him like a sunlamp. He's getting a little long in the dentures and I am left with the sketchy realm of underground metal practioners like Xasthur with their cartoon makeup and dodgy politics to find anyone hacking through the weeds in favor of following the road. Thankfully, the times are once again getting weird - people are seriously talking about either a black man or woman becoming the US President, an occurrence I frankly never expected to be this close to in my lifetime. Its can't bee too long before it starts raining frogs and our rivers of blood overflow the banks. With all this new weirdness, it's a valuable endeavor to pinpoint the new players
I frankly bypassed the whole Elephant 6 thing, having lived through the first Athens armada in the late 80's and witnessed many a person salivate over its diminishing returns. Fortunately some odd voice on the breeze kept nattering "of montreal" in my ear over and over until I discovered Hissing Fauna is in fact a weird record, and one of my favorites so far this year. Kevin Barnes and possible crew has crafted a hipster-indie-disco version of the neglected classic by The Fall, Grotesque (After the Gramme). Where so many Brooklynites are willing to dully shimmy in non-differentiated nostalgia spasms, Of Montreal focuses its jaundiced eye on the surreal, wriggling like a worm flying off the hook.
This album succeeds gloriously where more lauded boogie-smartypantses like Beck fail miserably. Barnes sounds manic, urgent, panicked as one should be in weird times in its magnum opus, the 11 minute "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," his drum machine and dopey guitar lines and woo-hoo background vocals serving as a frame to stretch his madness for all to see. I would love this album more if they had dispensed with all the other tracks and just extended this song to album length, Barnes' ramblings opening up new vistas of thought right before he makes our heads explode with those Doctor Who synthesizer fills. But Barnes failed to consult with me on this matter, so the other songs do bear some mentioning.
"Gronlandic Edit" is a brilliant minimalist AOR funk workout that creates a Frankenstein abomination of the strut scene from "Saturday Night Fever" while to me the real pop masterpiece is "Bunny Ain't no Kind of Rider" a title so clumsy it pains me to type it because the obvious name for this song is "Soul Power" because of this lethal chorus often repeated throughout it.
Eva, I'm sorry
But you'll never have me
To me you're just some faggy girl
And I need a lover with soul power
And you ain't got no soul power
Some of the electro workouts are less successful like the faux jazz of "Faberge Falls for Shuggie" which flubs some of the groove oddity of the Shuggie Otis albums which probably inspired it. Same with the sing-song "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger" which is a little too Bee Gees for its own good. But I can't really fault an album I praise for fractured cosmology for having, er, faults. The opening track "Suffer for Fashion" is as buoyant as it is perverse; the kind of hyperkinetic pop madness that I wish was on American Idol. I might join my friend in his delicious shame and watch it with him then.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
The Review of the Year of Things #1: Jason Lewis surveys the years' great albums and noting so many, compartmentalized, as men do. So, here, albums by those so profoundly impacted by Death