It’s appropriate that Of Montreal’s best show so far on their current tour should be in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. It would be even more fitting if Philadelphia were known also as the city of wife-ly, band-ly and people-ly love, considering Kevin Barnes’ rather sweet devotion to his family and his audience. Kevin Barnes, lead singer of renowned Elephant 6 collective band Of Montreal, likes to sing about love. He likes to sing about bumblebees. He and his band wear costumes. He sometimes sings about corpses but when he does, it’s kind of morbidly cute. Even when he sang about “Pancakes For One,” the loneliness just seemed more like a natural part of life, to be accepted when eating pancakes by yourself. Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal have the sort of pleasant balance between off-the-wall, wildly melodically imaginative pop songs and the razor-sharp edge of adult experience.
The first thing you notice about Barnes is that he speaks quickly. “I can’t stand breaks. It drives me crazy because it’s keeping me from what I want to do. I’m always obsessed with productivity. I can’t stand wasting time.” Releasing the bright and bold Sunlandic Twins in April on the local (and according to Barnes, very supportive) Polyvinyl Records has been their latest achievement.
Sunlandic Twins itself is a new departure from the much-adored psych-pop of 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic. Sunlandic Twins, named after a dream that Barnes’ wife had about the two of them in a mystical planet named Sunlandia, is what Barnes calls more “Prince meets David Bowie.” “At first, the band was a little unsure of the dancier pop, but then they warmed up to it and now everybody seems to have a really good time,” explains Barnes about the production of the album, which was mostly done by himself on a laptop in his home that he shares with his wife and brother. “As I finished each song, I’d play the songs for my wife and brother, and my brother’s a little more critical, and I changed a lot after hearing his advice. He sometimes says some lyrics are pretty cliche and lame, like ‘will you let me into your dream?’ So now we’re not so cliche and lame.” Earlier music aside (including Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr. and the Kinks), his family is the biggest influence, especially because the enthusiastic Barnes ironically believes that sometimes he has the tendency to think too commercially, saying, “Oh, people aren’t going to like this. She definitely pushes me to be as weird as possible. I wouldn’t want to sound like someone else.” Lyrics like “Who’d have guessed who’d have guessed I’m in love I’m in LOVE!!!” from Satanic Panic in the Attic pay suitable tribute to this very woman.
This weirdness is partly what makes Sunlandic Twins so very enjoyable, in addition to the extraordinarily catchy melodies, high energy and sweetly sung choruses. “The people we love, our contemporaries, the Shins, Caribou … we have the same spirit, in a way. We spend a lot of time crafting our songs.” While intelligent, the members of the band still don’t take themselves too seriously, with Barnes explaining that his bandmate Bryan would be a koala bear if he were an animal but retracting it, saying, “Wait, koala bears are mean, so he’d be panda bear, because he’s vegetarian. And Dottie would be a cool sexy lemur. Jaime would be a raccoon because he’s really cute. He doesn’t eat garbage. I’d be a salabuzz. That’s an animal I just made up. It has red eyebrows and looks like Willy Nelson and eats breath mints and curtains. And my wife would be a car.” Moments like this make it very easy to believe that Kevin Barnes is the mastermind lyricist behind eight albums.
Barnes’ departure from their usual (and by “usual,” I still mean amazingly great pop music) area of pop allow them to move out of their more ’60s-influenced style and move towards the decades of the ’70s and ’80s. “You just get tired of playing the same kind of music. It gets boring,” he says about the process of moving forward when you have such a distinct style. Which prompts us to ask-where will Of Montreal be in the future? Kevin Barnes answered this with, “I never had that moment of clarity where you’re like, all right. I’ve made it. You know, it’s always a continual struggle. You always want more than what you have, and it keeps you motivated. So in the future, we’ll probably be either in Sunlandia, or still struggling.”
Of Montreal will play the Highdive this Wedesday. The show also features Tilly and The Wall. Tickets are $10.