The recording sessions for Of Montreal’s 2016 release, Innocence Reaches, must’ve proved quite fruitful because here we are, less than six months later, with a new EP from the hippie- freaks from down South. That’s not to say that this material, entitled Rune Husk, is just a bunch of odds and sods. Of Montreal continues on a hot streak by releasing their strongest material, arguably, in their 20-plus year career. Hell, your kids might even dance to this.
For music fans of the indie rock genre, the 90s saw a wellspring of what used to be called “a scene” — or simply put: a town with more than two good bands in it. Starting, of course, in Seattle, this plague of flannel-clad, coffee drinking, cynical (typically, but certainly not exclusively) white males, who decided to pick up a crappy Fender, swept from the muddy banks of the Wishkak and headed East, infecting such diverse cities as Dayton, Ohio and Asheville, North Carolina. One peculiar hub was Athens, GA. The city was no stranger to being an epicenter of left-of-center pop: this was the home base of R.E.M. and the B-52s. By 1995, however, something had truly affected the town’s water supply, maybe runoff from a local licorice factory? The Elephant 6 Recording Company, founded by a bunch of dropouts fond of wearing drug-rugs (most notably Jeff Mangum and Robert Schneider), took their love of Syd Barrett, The Banana Splits and John Philip Sousa to create a new era of psychedelic rock. Playing on each other’s records, these bands included Mangum’s Neutral Milk Hotel, Schneider’s The Apples in Stereo, The Olivia Tremor Control and quite possibly the strangest of the strange, Kevin Barnes’ Of Montreal.
Like all utopias (Paris in the 20s, New York in the 70s, Spice World in the 00s), the Athens scene eventually petered out. After the meteoric rise of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Mangum went into hiding (otherwise known as Toronto) and Apples in Stereo continued to kick about, but for all intents and purposes, the dream was dead. But from the (marijuana) ashes of Athens, Of Montreal has proven to have both the artistry and business chops to last, constantly touring and putting out solid, if not near classic, records.
Usually when a band decides to incorporate the new, cool dance music that club kids are bouncing to, it goes bad — looking at you, Liz Phair. But I have to give Barnes credit on Innocence Reaches, as he took the best parts of EDM (who knew there was such a thing?!) and perfectly melded it within the OM sound.
Which leads us once again to Rune Husk. Any band worth their salt treats EPs not as a collection of songs, but as mini records. “I’m wicked cause I have not peaked” Barnes warbles on “Widowsucking.” This is the closest anyone has come to the Head-era Monkees. The song builds and builds to a crecendo of cymbals and synths before the second wave of euphoria kicks in.
“Stag to the Stable,” the best track of the bunch, jingles and jangles like that of those great Pavement jams. Barnes laments that “disappearing is easy when you don’t care to maintain a physical form.” See? Kids will dance to that. Doesn’t that basically sum up Snapchat?
“Internecine Larks,” with its doubled vocals and echoed kick drum, is Barnes’ own pocket symphony. Of Montreal once again proves they are the carriers of the torch once passed on from Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks.
I’m not going to make some great proclamation that, in these troubled times, we could use a band of long-hairs like the Elephant 6 to inject some Wonka-ness into mainstream music. But, I just made such a statement. And to note that Of Montreal is going stronger than when they first lost their ego is, dare I say, groovy.