Of Montreal: The Gay Parade 12"

Of Montreal: The Gay Parade 12"

Tags: · 90s · indie · reissues · spo-default · spo-disabled
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Of Montreal's second release for Bar None, 1999's The Gay Parade is a place where one can go to be in the company of funny creatures, eccentric characters and bizarre architecture. It's a strange land where people can escape to, to be happy. Of Montreal is the brainchild of Kevin Barnes. He resides in Athens, Georgia, and his band has long been part of the Elephant Six collective of young, prolific musicians that includes Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, and Music Tapes. But Kevin spends most of his time in his exceptionally fertile imagination.

His much acclaimed Bar None debut Cherry Peel and its companion piece, the very solo A Petite Tragedy, were hailed for their whimsy and cheerfulness but, for Kevin, they remain melancholy works, the aftermath of a romantic breakup. In fact, the unusual band name he chose was a reaction to heartache: he fell in love with a girl from Montreal, they parted badly, and henceforth his band would commemorate the ill-fated relationship because "I would be affected by the experience forever." Kevin is a guy who knows how to savor his sadness. The Gay Parade, on the other hand, is an escape from the everyday, from disappointment and disillusion and the dangerous unpredictability of love.

Happy, in some hands, can be dull and not half as musically exciting as misery. But Kevin is uniquely equipped to create a psychedelic sort of sincerity that can be far more moving than moping. As Raygun has put it, Of Montreal dare "to sing gentle songs filled with sweet acceptance while all around them grumble and moan." Kevin shares with his Elephant Six buddies, many of whom appear on this album, a love for a homegrown style of recording that is the aural equivalent of outsider art: the techniques may be primitive but the results are vivid soundscapes where no instrument or idea is unwelcome.

All of these Athens acts operate happily on the fringes of modern rock, which makes them as unclassifiable as they are cool, and Of Montreal are perhaps the most radically unfashionable. Kevin has more in common with artists from an older generation like Ray Davies, Jonathan Richman, and even Jimmy Webb, than with his contemporaries. And it's no surprise that he adores Brian Wilson, especially from Wilson's flaky but farsighted period when he tried to construct his monumental Smile.

Kevin also cites Marshmallow Coast, Kevin Ayers, and the Brazilian cult combo Os Mutantes. Of Montreal has its own notable fans, too; cool Japanese mixmaster Cornelius cites A Petite Tragedy as one of his favorite albums of '98. The Gay Parade is, in its way, a concept album. The story begins with the remarkable cover art that serves as a day-glo visual companion to the tunes. It was created by an artist calling himself Lecithin Emulsifier, but who happens to be Barnes' brother David.

Within forty-four fast-paced and musically dazzling minutes, Kevin assumes an alter-ego named Claude Robert - this obviously runs in the family - and introduces a cast of characters that he promises to develop further on future records. Kevin likes to think of each song as a float in a parade, an image that came to him while watching passing traffic, and all of the tunes blend together into a seamless and colorful whole.