Of Montreal: The Gay Parade

Of Montreal
The Gay Parade
Bar/None

OF MONTREAL IS one of the many peripheral bands associated with the Elephant 6 Recording Company--that loosely knit collective of basement studio dabblers that includes wild-eyed radicals Neutral Milk Hotel, '60s pop perfectionists Apples in Stereo, and collage artists Olivia Tremor Control. As with most E6-related acts, the group hails from Athens, Georgia, worships at the altar of mid-'60s psych-rock from the Beatles to Beefheart, and couldn't sing in tune on a dare. Yet, unlike most of the peripheral E6ers (Elf Power, the Gerbils, Minders), Of Montreal are as magical as they are whimsical, and The Gay Parade, the third album that brain trust Kevin Barnes has recorded under the moniker, is as colorful as its cartoon cover art.

With a cast of 18 musicians supporting his vision, Barnes has created an outrageously opulent work that stands in sharp contrast to his one-man Of Montreal record of last year, A Petite Tragedy. A concept album based on the menagerie of big-top eccentrics parading across the album's cover, The Gay Parade chronicles the lives of each character in tunes with titles like "A Collection of Poems About Water," "My Favorite Boxer," and "Y the Quale & Vaguely the Bird Easily Enjoying Their Forbidden Tryst." The approach fits perfectly with Barnes's songwriting, which has been compared to that of Kinks songsmith Ray Davies. And Barnes's quest to write 17 pop tunes about a community of assorted oddballs self-consciously reflects the song-images Davies imagined on The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.

Like Village Green, this promenade proceeds most gaily during its more visual moments. In some numbers this means opening a handbag of incidental sound effects--hence the "Yellow Submarine" background yelps in "Nickee Coco and the Invisible Tree" or the Beach Boys-inspired fire engines driving through the tale of volunteer firefighter "Jaques Lamure."

But the parade's most memorable float belongs to "My Favorite Boxer," where Barnes indulges in the type of long-winded storytelling that's usually restricted to Shangri-La's songs and Jonathan Richman ballads. With the wide-eyed wink of a well-crafted children's fable, Barnes sings in the voice of a youthful weakling in praise of his hero--the great heavyweight Hector Romano, a powerhouse who "turns big men to whimpering cowards." The singer encounters Hector walking down the road, but as he moves toward him, the boxer throws a stick at his head. This sends its victim fleeing for home, where his father calls him "a meaningless no one, compared to the perfect Hector Romano." With a tender chorus of hums, the song slides to an end, leaving one to ponder not only this sad tale of unrequited fandom and masculine oppression, but the even sadder fact that more songwriters don't have the guts to indulge in this kind of whimsy.

 
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