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Of Montreal – thecontrollersphere EP

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What began with a Hissing Fauna must end with a controllersphere.

It doesn’t have the same ring to it as apples and horses of an oracle’s prediction, but it’s an app way to sum up the closing of a unique chapter in the story of Indie Pop veterans Of Montreal. Like the Greek oracle of old, lead singer/band mastermind Kevin Barnes prophesized in 2007 the next several years of releases in “Faberge Falls for Shuggie” when he shouted “Skeletal Lamping! False Priest! The controllersphere!”. This week they release the final piece of that puzzle: thecontrollersphere EP, a collection of unused songs from the False Priest sessions.

“We just want to emote ‘til we’re dead,” Barnes wailed on the opening line of “Suffer For Fashion,” the first song on Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and emote he certainly has. Eschewing the whimsical fantasy and storytelling that defined the band’s early incarnation, he’s transformed the band into an overly confessional Indie Prince, even claiming he is taking on the character of Georgie Fruit, a black she-male, in almost every song from Hissing onwards. It was jarring at first but Hissing had a delightful blend of pop sensibilities and danceable beats and went on to become the surprise hit of the Indie world in 2007. Unfortunately, lightning rarely strikes twice and aside from brilliant single “Id Engager”, Barnes and company nearly disappeared up their own creative arses with the bloated, dense and over the top Skeletal Lamping.

Last year’s LP ‘False Priest’ seemed to offer some promise that the band of old would yet come around. Lead single “Coquete Coquette” was a blast of direct and engaging pop delight where guitars returned to the forefront and the lyrics were a tad more abstract and less of a direct confessional tale. While the overall album’s subject matter didn’t veer far from the established pattern of this “Georgie Fruit” period, the music had the glorious layered harmonies of old and most importantly, more hooks and melodies than the jam-packed with too many ideas Skeletal. It also didn’t hurt that the album was enhanced by appearances from the marvelous Janelle Monáe.

Which bring us to this epilogue in the story of Georgie Fruit, thecontrollersphere. The majority of this EP’s running time is dedicated to strange very un-Of Montreal soundscapes, beginning with “Black Lion Massacre.” This track sounds as creepy as the name implies, even manipulating Barnes’ vocals to sound lower and deeper than ever before, telling a bizarre story of murder and mutilation then spiraling out into a nervous and noisy ambience for the remaining two minutes. The acoustic guitar strums of “Flunkt Sass vs the Root Plume” shake the listener out of their bafflement with something that more closely resembles a song, but just as the song settles into being a Flaming Lips-esque little pop number it’s gone before even reaching the three minute mark. “Holiday Call” starts off promising enough but it too breaks down shortly after finding a solid melody and for the following five minutes is not much more than an India-inspired repetitious improvisation session. It works as background music, but not much else. Careful listening had this writer repeatedly checking the track time thinking, “how much longer is this?”

With their soundscape experimentation out of their system, the party-hardy ways of “Georgie Fruit” return with “L’age D’or” as Barnes exclaims, “I know she’s kind of fug, but she’s my party drug! Ooh ooh!” Questionable lyrics aside, it’s a fun little tune with a great beat and excellent piano workout. The adventure into thecontrollersphere comes to a close with “Slave Translator,” a fast-paced bit of self pity where he ends where he began in 2007, emoting the line, “I’m cutting myself and I feel like dirt.” Unfortunately upon the conclusion of this final remark one can’t shake the feeling that the entirety of thecontrollersphere was perhaps best left on the False Priest cutting room floor. Somewhere in all of the sadness, the band has lost its ear for melody. Revisiting earlier work like Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies only confirms this regretful state of affairs.

While it may be true that depression and dark themes have always been present in Of Montreal’s music (see “Old People in the Cemetery” from Aldhils Arboretum) there was always a sense of overall fun and enjoyment in the music despite this. While Of Montreal have managed to develop fantastic dance-pop sensibilities, the “Georgie Fruit” period has, more than anything, felt like Kevin Barnes’ vehicle for his one-stop pity party. Hopefully with this out of his system the band can now return to having fun with melodies and creating unique and creative narratives instead of putting excerpts from Barnes’ explicit personal diary to music.

By Jarad Matula

of Montreal – “L’age D’or” from “thecontrollersphere” by YiN Magazine