Monday, October 15, 2007

This love project

Until I read this today, I'd wrestled for months on how to articulate the tuneful horribleness of Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?; which is to say, a lot of these songs inspire horror, but I've been nervous about plumbing their depths. The only song that made me really enthusiastic is "The Past is a Grotesque Animal," which is five-sixths of a great title until Montreal scion Kevin Barnes assumes that "animal" has more specificity than "thing"; the oddness of this metaphor says a lot more about a certain indie mindset than SFJ's temperate essay.

Listening to "The Past..." this afternoon a few minutes after finishing Bob Dylan's equally endless 1997 "Highlands" (all told, the consumption of both songs took about 16 hours of my day), it struck me: the Of Montreal track is the boho update. As Barnes recounts, praises, laments, and chews over a relationship powerful enough to inspire a twelve-minute song, his monomania is so ridiculously inappropriate that "The Past..." becomes powerful in a way that the album's other (shorter) numbers never approach. The way Dylan's "Highlands" is mixed, the instruments might as well be programmed into a Synclavier; the metronomic chords and unyielding sobriety of Dylan's vocal are ambient washes, with discrete phrases and allusions poking their heads out of the tide. Similarly the tepid programmed beats of "The Past..." suggest an exhaustion with form. For both these romantic casualties the only way to plumb their pain is to find the most predictable forms and elongate them to the breaking point. Erica Jong is Dylan's signifier of solidarity with the concerns of womanhood (I doubt he'd even dignify it by citing "feminism"), "Neil Young" his musical one, presumably the introspective Young of On The Beach. In Barnes' song, "George Bataille" has the weight of a compatible astrological sign -- if I didn't think that Barnes really believed that meeting the first cute girl who read The Story of the Eye was kismet. And maybe he believes in the cleverness of using rote business school jargon like "Our love project has so much potential"; it might have excited Gary Numan's transistors had not Barnes also included, "Somehow you've red-rovered the Gestapo circling my heart," which suggests that he knows Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" by heart. Meanwhile Dylan's so bummed that he can't keep himself awake through most of his song. I haven't been in enough devastating relationships to distinguish between the least meretricious and the most dishonest of the two; these songs elide the distinctions, I think.

1 comment:

kiss out the jams said...

Christgau whore!

But I'm with you for more technical reasons: there's about three notes in the song. It was brilliant to hook Kevin Barnes up with a Velvets-style vamp because it cures his ADD.

Barnes is an annoyance because like countless other "ambitious" indie musos he whitewashes his failure to check if all his grandiloquent, ambitious parts connect, just traveling from point to point and not giving a shit about closure (this means anything from resolving melodies to capping most of his song titles at four words) because his spoiled ass knows most critics will call it brilliant or irreverant or something.

I know New Magnetic Wonder doesn't do much for you either, but now that you've seen the other side of the coin, at least thank the gods of pop that Robert Schnieder's songs stay in one place.