Young and happy, strange and sappy: these are appropriate descriptions of Kevin Barnes, lead singer and primary songwriter of the band Of Montreal. Even more appropriate, perhaps, might be the word zany.
Of Montreal’s most recent album, Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse, is possibly, with the exception of the work of Spike Jones and Weird Al Yancovich, the zaniest rock record ever. However, unlike Jones and Yankovich, Barnes does not deal in camp. Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies is incredibly ambitious and complex, a beautifully crafted concept album in the vein of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or the Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile.
The album is an account of the fantastic journey of Barnes’ alter ego, Claude Robert, and his beloved, the flaxen-haired fairy Coquelicot.
With song titles such as “Upon Settling on the Frozen Island, Lecithin Presents Claude And Coquelicot With His Animal Creations for Them to Approve or Reject” and “Let’s Go for a Walk, Coquelicot Leaves the Frozen Island to Resume her Work as an Efeblum With Claude and Lecithin in Tow,” Coquelicot is a difficult listen.
The album’s general inaccessibility is oddly alluring and complete with super-weird spoken word narratives ranging from topics such as ravenous hyena-cicadas to “The Events Leading Up to the Collapse of Detective Dullight,” as well as an 18-minute piano epic titled “The Hopeless Opus.” The songs also are generally less sincere than previous Of Montreal records.
Nevertheless, Coquelicot retains the refreshingly sweet and non-pretentious character that is part of the band’s unique charm.
Barnes’ 70-minute pop collage presents a twisted and magical world free of consequences, where logic is made absurd, ugliness made beautiful and individuals in the state of gauze disturb others less often with their prickly fingers as they evaporate in to the cream afloat a child’s bedtime cocoa.
Members of the infamous Elephant 6 recording collective help form Of Montreal’s infectious, distinct and sugary, sweet pop flavor. Songs such as “Good Morning Mr. Edminton” and “Penelope” are evocative of ’60s pop wonderment, seeming like the sonic equivalent of joyous romps through a sunshiny poppy field. Even tracks such as “Butterschotching Mr. Lynn,” and “Hello From Inside a Shell,” though more thoroughly psychedelic, are so downright catchy and full of goodness that they’re sure to charm.
Even Barnes’ romantic tendencies are on full display in songs such as “A Dreamy Day of Daydreaming of You” and “It’s Just So.” Perhaps most remarkable is the track “Let’s Do Everything for the First Time Forever,” in which Barnes croons dreamily and with obvious sincerity lines such as, “you are a miracle,
But, more than anything, Coquelicot is fun. To quote the mythical Claude Robert, “If you ever feel that in your life the moments of gaiety are too few, you can always come and visit us now that you know the way.”
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