For an Of Montreal album, it’s safe to say that “Aureate Gloom” is a tame departure from a majority of the band’s former magnum opuses. With a repertoire of 13 studio albums on the back burners, the psychedelic rock outfit from Athens, Georgia, hasn’t exactly hit its stride in its 2015 release.
With his sporadically distressed vocals moshing around the mid-gain guitar progressions, lead singer and overall principal leader for Of Montreal, Kevin Barnes, continues an uphill battle of coming to terms with his lost love, Nina Grøttland, aka Nina Twin.
Barnes’ singular talent for meshing together intricate and freakish musical scores has been slightly watered down since his pairing with an actual full band since the 2013 release of “Lousy with Sylvianbriar.”
For me, Barnes truly shines when it’s just him, a studio and his crippling depression guiding the music through panicked electronic freak-outs and three-part vocal harmonies that make your ears ring. Albums such as “Hissing Fauna,” “Are You the Destroyer?” and “Skeletal Lamping” are prime examples of how Barnes can really tell a story. The absence of his black transgender alter-ego, Georgie Fruit, introducesd in Fauna’s “The Past is a Grotesque Animal,” has left Barnes sounding almost washed out. Not to mention, the group has been pumping out a new record almost every year for more than a decade. It might be safe to say Barnes needs a creative hiatus to let the juices flow.
That being said, “Aureate Gloom” is not the band’s worst album. It’s not its best, either. “Bassem Sabry” kicks off the album with a heavily distorted buildup followed by a funky beat and Barnes’ slightly distorted voice. As for most of Baenes’ lyrics, they’re normally difficult to follow as if he’s interpreting hieroglyphics from his own subconscious and the translation is askew. In this opening song, he claims “Every leader is a cellophane punk/ if you hear me say ‘Yeah!’” From my understanding, he’s either rebelling against some big brother figure or there’s a deeper meaning beyond us all.
Most of the band’s albums also go heavily into the personal relationship of Barnes and Grøttland ever since “Satanic Panic in the Attic.” He suffers the perpetual bereavement of his simultaneously estranged and beloved Nina throughout his albums since “Fauna,” after she left him. “I want to matter, I want to be your friend/ Not some kind of poison” he whines through heavy vocals and drum beats on “Last Rites at the Jane Hotel.”
The album hits a high point for me on “Empyrean Abattoir,” which starts off solemn and contemplative and hits floating choruses that take you to a Pink Floyd-esque break. The 5/4 section builds the song up to a punk-driven bridge where Barnes suggests over and over again that their breakup was “Just a system of subtraction.”
In “Aluminum Crown,” it feels just how the lyrics go; just like a fever dream. “Troubled dreams/ I’ve been hurt by troubled dreams” he sings. This is followed by fast-paced progressions that wake you up like a splash of cold water, only to return to a sort of nirvana in the original chorus.
Although there aren’t very many melodic lines to latch onto in this punk-rock collection of sundries, “Virgillian Lots” provides some middle ground between Barnes and us. Unlike most of the time where we’re treading water trying to understand what exactly he’s talking about, he gets right into the heart of things with a sweet melody, singing “I’m grieving for you, my love/ And I don’t know what’s going on.” It’s one of the few sections that stick out to me even after three or four plays through the album.
A finale of sorts to this album, “Like Ashoka’s Inferno of Memory” features the most dynamic shifts in the album with Queen-like electric guitar riffs and a penchant for subliminal harmonies. However, it cuts off just how it starts; there’s no grand stage exit or closure and we’re just as confused about how Barnes feels as before.
Tired out vocals that blare bewilderment portray a confused Barnes still seeking council from his lost relationship with Grøttland. After a moderate attempt at making more music to portray his feelings in their edgy new fashion, Barnes leads Of Montreal in what resembles more of a collection of sputtering from a troubled slam poet than anything similar to “Fauna” or “Skeletal Lamping.”