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Of Montreal - The Sunlandic Twins

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Artist: Of Montreal

Album: The Sunlandic Twins

Label: Polyvinyl

Review date: Jul. 31, 2005

Like many of their Elephant Six forebears, Athens second-wavers Of Montreal are prolific, unfortunately named, and frequently dismissed as a saccharine pop novelty. But despite a few missteps, Of Montreal counter the criticism with the occasionally masterful, frequently evocative, and consistently lovely Sunlandic Twins.

Opener “Requiem for O.M.M.2” introduces two of Of Montreal’s tendencies throughout Sunlandic Twins: Barnes’ erudite, referential lyrics, which tend toward the literary and quasi-mythological (a la Tyrannosaurus Rex) rather than Decemberists-style historiography; and their occasional use of a riff/chord progression lifted – in homage? – from an artist Of Montreal obviously reveres.

Here, the chorus begins with most of the guitar hook from The Cars’ “Just What I Needed”; the reference is appropriate, since, Barnes’ narrator, like Ric Ocasek’s, is reflecting on ending a love-affair – though Ocasek’s gallant found less melancholy in the memory. “Requiem” also serves as prologue to a central subject for the record: the early, life-changing, summer love affair - the type of fling significant not despite, but because of its fleeting, physical, and self-centered nature.

Second track “I Was Never Young” falls short of its Talking Heads-meets-13th Floor Elevators aspirations, ending up more like a fun Thompson Twins B-side, but Sunlandic Twins’ third song, the infuriatingly titled “Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)” shines. Threatening at any moment to turn into Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” “Wraith” evokes the frivolity of the short-term aventure amoreuse with its throwaway New Wave dance beat as well as its lyrics. With “let’s have bizarre celebrations / let’s pretend we don’t exist,” Barnes describes the identities that short-term lovers try on for each other, to shed at summer’s end; the ephemeral romance which “seems too lovely to be true / but I know the best things always do” is one of “the best things” because of its unspoken understanding that it ends in embers.

“Forecast Fascist Future” (as its title indicates) briefly sidesteps l’amour in favor of an obliquely political lament on mass culture and the decay of creativity and human kindness. And once again, Of Montreal toes the line between homage and plagiarism, borrowing the hook from David Bowie’s Hunky Dory anthem “Queen Bitch.” But the chorus may be Sunlandic Twins’ finest moment: spookily harmonious, hi-fi pop-psych straight from the Pretty Things’ playbook, with an equally exquisite lyric: “Boredom murders the heart of our age while sanguinary creeps take the stage.”

The centerpiece “The Party’s Crashing Us” – more than anything, a summer sex anthem – is the album’s best track. Barnes’ slyly coy vocal delivery captures the combination of swagger and slightly desperate immediacy inherent in the ongoing-but-disposable, lust-fueled tryst. And the lyrics! Not since Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 got crowds of college radio kids out of their cardigans with 1994’s “The Piston and the Shaft” has a left-field indie-pop band gotten so explicit with erotic metaphor.

Here, Barnes evokes physical urgency (“I want to grab you / want to scream at you / no icing me down”) and bizarre mutual objectification (“we made love like a pair of black wizards”), ultimately exhibiting the narrator’s milestone shift from innocence to carnality, naïvete to swagger. “You freed me from the past / you fucked the suburbs out of me”: impossible in a small hometown, anonymity is a heady, big-city aphrodisiac.

By Anna Bond

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