Album Review: Of Montreal, ‘Aureate Gloom’
To take pause at an Of Montreal album or song title -- along with the lyrics themselves -- is kind of part of the experience of listening to and absorbing the Atlanta-based collective’s work. You’re going to encounter some bewildering, perplexing and clever wordplay along the way. And such is the case with Aureate Gloom, the Kevin Barnes-led group’s 13th album. But after returning to the album's name in the context of the LP's actual content, it all adds up.
While not as wordy as some of Barnes other efforts (How about 2001’s Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse or all those Dustin Hoffman-named songs from right around the same period?), Aureate Gloom sets up an extreme juxtaposition that is carried through the album’s 10 tracks.
Barnes himself said the album title referred to the “golden despondency” he felt at the time of the album’s making. Having recently separated from his wife, Barnes says, “One moment [I was] feeling, ‘What the f--- have I done?’ and the next moment being, ‘Ah, I feel so liberated!’” Those types of mood shifts are heard all over Aureate Gloom – from the ‘70s disco-tinged opener, “Bassem Sabry,” to the quieter moments of “Empyrean Abattoir” that find Barnes ruminating, “I’ve been trying to quell my anger / And not feel bitter about all the darkness you gave.”
Of course, extremes are the currency Of Montreal deals in (this is, after all, the band that makes a living on over-the-top, theatrical live gigs that have been known to feature entrances on horseback). The tonal shifts happen not just between albums or even songs -- they happen within the songs themselves, and they happen abruptly and often. That much has been true for some time now, especially since 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic.
Yet, some of Aureate Gloom’s moments feel like Barnes at his most unhinged and experimental. Just as the title suggests, the album moves from the pretty (the spacious, Bowie-esque intro on “Aluminum Crown” and Barnes’ gentle “I’m grieving for you, my lo-o-ove” cries on “Virgilian Lots”) to forays into the ugly (the grizzled riffs heard in “Last Rites at the Jane Hotel” to Barnes’ punk-ish snarls on “Monolithic Egress”).
One thing Of Montreal have never been is afraid of blurring lines or bending genres – whether it’s their early twee-pop, Barnes' exploration into alt-country on 2013’s Lousy With Sylvianbriar or the band during their glammest, most psych-pop output. In that vein, Aureate Gloom makes a fitting and admirable addition to Of Montreal’s fearless catalog.