For a band whose sound approaches uncontained glee, the mood created by Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, of Montreal's 2007 masterpiece is similar to, say, standing inside of a burning building with a tape recorder. The record, detailing an intense period of depression and growth, turned overwrought on its side in an eager play on form vs. content, setting painfully diary-appropriate lyrics with wild disco keyboards in the name of intensely personal self-critique. Surviving until the end, Barnes inevitably deconstructed, falling apart against restless sonics and some killer basslines; the catharsis was palpable.
Hissing Fauna stood firmly on a shaky precipice: for the majority of its duration, the balancing act the music took between weary, incisive introspection and total emotional chaos should not have worked, but the results were ultimately astounding. Sadly, it's hard to say the same about Skeletal Lamping. For this eagerly awaited follow-up, of Montreal opt to stray further into the conceptual, extending and expanding upon the "Georgie Fruit" concept the last album originated, with perplexing results.
This "Georgie Fruit," or rather, the mishandling of this concept, serves as a major problem. Born out of arguably the most painful moment on Hissing Fauna, the 11-minute beast "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" -- can't you still hear him yell "Do I have to scream in your face?" -- Georgie Fruit acts as Kevin Barnes' coping mechanism, an alter ego whose backstory approaches exaggeration (multiple sex changes? really, Kevin?). While Barnes' confessional narration on Hissing Fauna reeked of self-analysis and self-criticism, Georgie Fruit's clearly got his mind in the proverbial gutter, detailing, at length, a lyrical obsession with sex and sexual experimentation. From song titles ("Triphallus, to Punctuate!") right down to its lyrics (most obviously, the spinning refrain of "For Our Elegant Caste" -- "We can do it softcore if you want/ But you should know that I go both ways" -- the sexual element that saturates the album reaches past playful and ends up cheesy on many occasions. Put simply, the record goes overboard.
A somewhat unexpected criticism of an of Montreal album, yes, but it is nevertheless impossible to ignore. The overriding sexuality, filtered through the suite-like construction of the songs, lends a deliberately schizophrenic feel to the whole ordeal; Skeletal Lamping can feel like an epic joke: an overblown and over-the-top mess. However, when has the band ever sounded like anything but a glorious mess? It's easy to stay stuck in Devil's Advocate when listening to this album, but it contains some of the band's most interesting songs to date. "Id Engager," the album's first single and a semi-obvious "Suffer for Fashion" rehash, bobs along, massively entertaining and energetic (though it's oddly placed as the final track). Similarly, tracks such as "An Eluardian Instance" and "Gallery Piece" generally leave the disorienting genre-shifting and conceptual framework aside, letting the infectious beats simmer and chug along.
Skeletal Lamping is by no means a bad album; rather, after such an organic and fully realized career milestone as Hissing Fauna, the difficulty of finding a new direction is a creatively arduous one, and of Montreal's experimentation here is notable overall. A band this restless is bound to never stop moving, so overlooking the bloated, scattershot aspects of this transitional album proves easy enough. After all, when have you ever heard of a band releasing only masterpieces?