Satanic Panic in the Attic
f Montreal’s Satanic Panic in the Attic is one of those singular albums that is so richly dense, so unabashedly whimsical and so damned polished, a listener can’t resist sweeping all other albums from his or her desk and (metaphorically, of course) consummating one’s relationship with it via iPod’s vastly underappreciated “Repeat” feature.
Opener “Disconnect the Dots”, sated with twinkling piano chords and ethereal percussion, lulls one into a Technicolor netherworld where harmonics rule and not a spare measure passes unexploited. This is to constitute the landscape of Satanic. “Come disconnect the dots with me poppet” Kevin Barnes sings, and even as I look up “poppet” in my OED, I find myself bobbing my head like an autistic kid.
If there remains any lingering apprehension once “Dots” has faded out of one’s headphones, “Lysergic Bliss”, track two, quells it. Opening with warped tribal drums overlaid by the ritualistic chant “Ooo Shakka!” the momentum breaks off into the sort of twanged guitar riff we might expect on the new Loretta Lynn release, and just as suddenly disappears altogether, usurped by a harmonized Beach Boys-esque vocal riding a rag-time piano jangle. All this in the first 45 seconds. By 2:36 we hear Barnes doing a great Freddie Mercury impression amid a polyphony of overdubbed voices.
If you simply perused Of Montreal’s quirky, high-browed lyrics on paper, you’d never guess they could be sung so much as spoken, but Barnes spits in the face of convention, melding his elaborate rhymes with roiling beats driven by buoyant bass lines, hyperactive drumming and well timed xylophone flourishes. “Rapture Rapes the Muses”, for instance, is replete with handclaps and propelled by a warped Merry-Go-Round melody, but also features Barnes dropping lines as impenetrable as “You keep me lit like antediluvian Troy / But one always reveres what ones bound to destroy”. Um, okay. Satanic bursts at the seams with such highfalutin lines, making one thing eminently clear: Barnes’ done went to college and stuff.
But before you label Satanic pedantic, understand that there are moments of blistering earnestness here, as well. On “Eros’ Entropic Tundra” Barnes lays it all out, singing, “All I ever get is sad love / Always falling for the ones who feel nothing for me / Sometimes I think I should just forget about love”. But what about me and you, Barnes? Right now. On the desk. Repeat. REPEAT!
If one were asked to name the defining trait of Satanic, the obvious choice would be Barnes’ elaborate vocal harmonies. While he doesn’t possess the greatest voice, Barnes, like The Beach Boys, readily manipulates it to great effect, sometimes disguising it as a woman’s (“City Bird”), a lounge singer’s (“Your Magic is Working”), or baring it a cappella (“Lysergic Bliss”).
As for reference points, there are almost too many to name. Acts like The Beach Boys, Ben Folds Five, Queen, Beck (circa Odelay) and even The Pixies can be found here. But clearly, Of Montreal has not aped these sounds so much as eaten them one by one like a ravenous Star Jones who happened upon a buffet, subsequently digesting the hodgepodge of influences into their own unique, irresistible brick, which, graciously, has been shat into our awaiting ears.
“City Bird” is perhaps the only misstep here, as the meek ode to the urban creature’s unrealized freedom in a voice as stilted and toneless as Nico’s feels out of place on such an otherwise densely textured, multifarious album.
Panic drips creativity. Listen after listen only confirms that Barnes is an indie force to be reckoned with. Just try and remember to recharge your iPod’s batteries once in a while. “Repeat” doesn’t last forever and there’s nothing worse than sudden, chaffing silence.
Reviewed by: R. S. Ross
Reviewed on: 2004-05-17