of Montreal – Aureate Gloom

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of Montreal – Aureate Gloom

“Bassem Sabry”, the opening track to of Montreal’s fifteenth album, is a red herring of the highest sort.  It’s wah-laden guitars and disco rhythms make you think that, after the garage-inspired reset of Lousy With Sylvianbriar, the band was returning to the psych-funk sounds they established on Skeletal Lamping, False Priest, and Paralytic Stalks.  At the same time, with its focus on an Egyptian political activist, the casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that the focus might not be on frontman Kevin Barnes for a change.

Neither is true.  This is an album that dives into New York City in the septic days of the late 1970s and early 1980s:  cigarette-stained glam-punk, drugged-out disco dens, street-sweat funk riffs, and damn the torpedoes rock and roll.  It’s a record of volume, fuzz, and widescreen ambitions, and it centres around Barnes’ failed marriage to the Norwegian woman he first bled his heart out about on the band’s breakthrough album, 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?  Barnes has always had a habit of being overwrought when it comes to his lyrics (and his song titles), but on Aureate Gloom he takes that tendency to an unfortunate extreme.  “Empyrean Abattoir” features lines like “Before your hysterical silence, you came rapping at my door / With your body as a sacrament, your mind a killing floor” and something about “stealing from his aureation of filth” after “masturbating your father’s pain”.  What?  “Virgilian Lots” compares the stability that Barnes and his wife once enjoyed to “the twin volcanoes of Cuauhnahuac”; on the next track, “Monolithic Egress”, he compares them to “the raping of the embryonic virgin spring”.  The effect is rather like reading the intensely personal breakup diary of a kid (a 40-year-old kid at that) who desperately wants to be published in The Paris Review.

Aureate Gloom takes of Montreal in an interesting musical direction, one where Tom Petty and The Kinks jam with Chic and the past remains as always a grotesque animal.  What it really bodes well for its the next album, the one after Barnes gets his divorce novel out of his system.  The musical balancing act on display here is marred by his precocious-teenager divorce lyrics, and as a fiction writer capable of writing some pretty overwrought lines myself, it takes a lot to call someone out on that.

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Bjork – Vulnicura

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Bjork – Vulnicura

The Icelandic singer’s ninth album was originally slated to arrive in March, along with a feature on her at the Museum of Modern Art.  Then it leaked, and Bjork and her label decided to just release it immediately instead.  /mu/, I’m not saying this is your fault, but if the feels fit, feel ’em.

After the atmospheric experimentation of 2011’s Biophilia, the so-called “first app album”, Vulnicura represents a curious return to old sounds, particularly 1997’s Homogenic.  The bulk of the album is subtle electronic-influenced beats and string arrangements.  The strings were Bjork’s central motif for the album; it’s a breakout album, and she dealt with the breakup by developing a massive crush on the violin.  Venezuelan producer Arca handles the overall production on most of the album and creepy soundscape auteur The Haxan Cloak does the mixing; the effect brings out the idea of a hard-bitten journey, one that leaves you exhausted at the end and questioning what came before.  Most of the nine songs here are well over six minutes, with “Black Lake” being over ten; they all describe the arc of the singer’s breakup, and as such it is a very heavy set of music that cannot be described as an easy or everyday set of listening.  It also tends to repeat itself an uncomfortable amount; given that the instrumentation is very simple, this is probably unavoidable, but it makes for a bit of a slog nonetheless. Regardless it’s highly recommended, as a sweeping and emotional work. Just don’t expect to have it on repeat over the next week.

[Vulnicura has not been released on Spotify as of the writing of this review]