On March 3rd, Of Montreal return with their 13th album, Aureate Gloom. Of the record, leader Kevin Barnes offered Stereogum a brief insight into the album’s title: Aureate is a word used to characterize an ornamental object, a descriptor that can describe something beautiful or hideous. Barnes’ songwriting is a madcap, everything-at-once approach that teeters between both of these adjectives with ease. Aureate takes numerous unexpected turns over the course of a single song, a testament to Barnes’ encyclopedic knowledge of yesterday’s pop/psych masterpieces.
Aureate opens with Bassem Sabry, an explicitly funky track (yes, even for Barnes) that features, to name a few: auto-wah’d claviers, handclaps, choral breaks and toy pianos. In contrast to the impossibly happy music surrounding them, Barnes’ lyrics take every opportunity to celebrate failure and discontent: “I just watched my hero fail, now I’m in a dark and violent funk. Every leader is a cellophane punk, if you hear me say ‘yeah’”. “Bassem” is a near-perfect example of what Barnes does best: weaving bizarre and surreal turns and images into an otherwise flawless pop song. You could blink during a change in the song’s progression, and it might never come back.
In the same Stereogum interview referenced earlier, Barnes noted that Aureate was a deeply personal album, in that he had separated with his wife of 11 years just prior to the writing process. Knowing this does tempt the listener to analyze the lyrics a little closer. For example, the Joe Jackson-esque shuffle of “Empyrean Abattoir”: “You came rapping at my door, with your body as a sacrament, your mind a killing floor”. Lyrical content aside, I found it much easier to find examples of Barnes’ confusion and change in the music itself, rather than the actual words. Barnes admits that the songs on Aureate are “a lot of dialogue without a really defined author”, so any attempt to find specifics is moot.
There are many other great moments on Aureate, and they come in spades: the shift from prototypical caveman-glam to prog on “Last Rites At The Jane Hotel”, or the slew of interesting synthesizer sounds not yet heard on any other Of Montreal record. In short, Barnes has made his best album of the past 5 years, and proven that he still has new tricks up his sleeve.