Two years after 2013's Lousy with Sylvianbriar, Kevin Barnes and crew present an album that takes a distinct turn in sound and musical inspiration with the brasher and more patently personal Aureate Gloom. Written in the aftermath of a separation from his wife of over ten years, it was recorded directly to tape with the same central five-piece lineup -- Barnes, JoJo Glidewell, Bennett Lewis, Bob Parins, and Clayton Rychlik (plus Kishi Bashi lending strings and vocals) -- as the excellent, roots rock-influenced Sylvianbriar. ...
Two years after 2013's Lousy with Sylvianbriar, Kevin Barnes and crew present an album that takes a distinct turn in sound and musical inspiration with the brasher and more patently personal Aureate Gloom. Written in the aftermath of a separation from his wife of over ten years, it was recorded directly to tape with the same central five-piece lineup -- Barnes, JoJo Glidewell, Bennett Lewis, Bob Parins, and Clayton Rychlik (plus Kishi Bashi lending strings and vocals) -- as the excellent, roots rock-influenced Sylvianbriar. On Aureate Gloom, instead of Dylan, Young, and Jagger, it's Iggy, Reed, and Warhol filtered through the unique kaleidoscope of Of Montreal. Barnes has said that the '70s New York City of CBGB, including artists such as Television and Patti Smith, was an inspiration for the record; he spent two weeks in the City ruminating about musicians and scenes of its past while exploring and writing. Unlike Sylvianbriar, which seemed like a departure, Aureate Gloom takes many of the band's more recent notable attributes -- verbosity, funkiness, experimentalism, grit, flair, meandering modulations, confessional lyrics -- and funnels them into a petulant stew. No one element will surprise dedicated fans, but the intensity and hard-edged presentation may. If Lousy with Sylvianbriar is Of Montreal's Badlands , Aureate Gloom is its Taxi Driver . The record's title appears in lyrics from the opening track, "Bassem Sabry," named after the Egyptian journalist and activist who died (under suspicious circumstances) in 2014 at age 31. The only song on the album not drawing on Barnes' own life, it addresses the work and fallout of standing up to oppression. The "Diamond Dogs" Bowie-esque song is funky and infectious with a chorus that Barnes somehow makes singably catchy, "I'll never follow no kind of master's voice/The mutinous tramp of cold voltage crucifixion is my conduit." The more deadpan delivery of "Last Rites at the Jane Hotel" evokes a cross of Velvet Underground and T. Rex as the album gets to Barnes' more intimate lyrics: "Do I bother you with those kinds of vapid questions anymore?/I wanna matter, I wanna be your friend, not a poison/This kind of love, our kind of love is so demoralizing." Later, "Monolithic Egress," with alternating staccato-strummed and moaning electric guitar, meandering bassline, and intermittent punk segments, is an emotional and musical roller coaster. The anguished guitars and synths on "Virgilian Lots" support oscillating vocal tones ("I'm grieving for you, my love, and I don't understand what's going on"), and no thesaurus is needed to understand the straight-up agitated punk rock implosion on "Chthonian Dirge for Uruk the Other." Despite its often dense and disoriented lyrics -- or perhaps because of them -- some listeners will connect to the emotional frustration and vulnerability of Aureate Gloom (look no further than the record's closing words, "Oh no!"). The combination of the raw, tempestuous styles, Barnes' own capricious musical tendencies, and the regrettable subject matter of Aureate Gloom has Of Montreal at its rockiest and most intense. ~ Marcy Donelson, Rovi
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