It's been a long time (in music years) since the indie-pop comeback of the late 1990s. The apples are cored and the tremors are out of control. But Of Montreal -- at one point merely a curiosity of the movement -- now stands as the standard bearer for the genre. They've weathered the storm, and they did so by mixing their innocent pop fixation with sonic and conceptual experiments, from the vaudeville lo-fi flair of The Gay Parade to the cohesive plot of The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy. And that has a lot to do with why last year's Satanic Panic in the Attic came as such a surprise. Group mastermind Kevin Barnes finally created an album that was both unified and joyously fractured, eschewing the album-encapsulating concepts of past albums to deliver single after single of delightful and summery pop music. It was one of my favorite albums of the year last year, and "Spike the Senses," "Disconnect the Dots," "Rapture Rapes the Muses" and "Vegan in Furs" stood out thanks to their seamless inclusion of dance rhythms, groovy bass lines, and warped Prince funk. Barnes's Os Mutantes-evoking melodies and bizarre instrumentation flew over the production, and his harmonies soared higher than ever before. He was no longer a pop pretender, but a distinctive and exciting voice in the reborn dance-pop genre.
Thankfully, The Sunlandic Twins sees Barnes capitalizing on the dance beats in Satanic Panic in the Attic. He described this new album on the Polyvinyl website as his "foray into 21st century A.D.D. electro cinematic avant-disco" and ended with, "Oh yeah, and you can dance to it!"
The first half of the album definitely lives up to that standard, and it may even be better than the best songs on Satanic Panic. But the second half of the album -- after the could-be-an-old-Prefuse-73-interlude "Knight Rider" -- scrapes away the sunny pop single style and falls into slow and sterile IDM beats. These cuts are peppered with excellent production that, like last year's Satanic Panic, shuns the lo-fi pop of his earlier works, but not even that can help.
Luckily, the fun all starts off with the exhilarating and manic "Requiem for O.M.M. 2," a big love pop song that brings to mind Satanic Panic's breathtaking album opener "Disconnect the Dots." The guitars shimmer as big pop guitars are want to do, and the cowbell hits that propel the chorus are as close to perfect as Of Montreal will ever get.
"I Was Never Young" continues hitting the snare with a pair of Pixie Stix, and "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)" comes so dangerously close to stealing the bass line to "Rapture Rapes the Muses" my stomach dropped. But then the song unexpectedly becomes a disco-pop sex anthem, Barnes' sexily chanting "Let's have bizarre celebrations" over a full-fledged disco beat. It's marvelous. And it's not even close to the pure future-tunnel vibe of the single, the remarkable and transcendent "So Begins Our Alabee." But sadly, the sadly sterile "Oslo in the Summertime" and other songs of the flipside just can't compete.
The album is peppered with images of death and immortality a la Flaming Lips, and the album's limp second-half is heavy with these ideas. The album closer "The Repudiated Immortals" even sounds like a cross between "Waiting for Superman" and Barnes' own "My Friend Will Be Me." It's the best moment in the later half of the album, a seductive yet innocent slow-groove song that ends the album with Barnes crooning, "It's a violent world/ But there's still beauty/ I'll take care of you/ If you take care of me." Barnes has continued to take care of himself on The Sunlandic Twins, furthering his sound in the right direction. And while the second half of the album is a miscue -- eschewing the sunny innocence that makes his music so likeable -- I know what'll be in my CD player all spring.
1. Requiem for O.M.M. 2
2. I Was Never Young
3. Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)
4. Forecast Fascist Future
5. So Begins Our Alabee
6. Our Spring Is Sweet Not Fleeting
7. The Party's Crashing Us
8. Knight Rider
9. I Was a Landscape In Your Dream
10. Death of a Shade of a Hue
11. Oslo in the Summertime
12. October is Eternal
13. The Repudiated Immortals