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Of Montreal - UR FUN Music Album Reviews

Setting lovelorn lyrics atop blissful melodies and ’80s bubblegum production, Kevin Barnes’ latest album wields his habitual twee escapism like a shield.

Children born the year Of Montreal released their debut album have been breezing into American bars with their government-issued IDs for two years now. The psychedelic pop project helmed by Kevin Barnes came into its stride during the indie surge of the early aughts, when widespread twee escapism offered an out from the horrors of the news under the second Bush administration. Few darlings of that era have clung to its aesthetics as stubbornly as Barnes, who injects a surfeit of color into even his most morose undertakings. He has brewed up a storm of music over the past two decades, and while plenty of it is forgettable, hardly any is drab. Cycling through galvanizing Prince shrieks, Bowie-worshipping hooks, and feathery Beach Boys harmonies, Barnes keeps his ear trained on the most exuberant characters in pop music’s past. His latest, UR FUN, keeps the party going, even if it often sounds more like a patchwork of soft-boiled singles than an album with a cohesive narrative arc.


At their best, Of Montreal force a study in contrasts. Barnes is prone to sending doomy lyrics soaring atop blissful melodies nested in wispy psychedelic production. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, a peak in his abundant discography, was a breakup record disguised as a rollicking (if frantic) good time, a testament to the way that anxiety and self-doubt can jolt a grieving person out of stasis. Its joyful moments teetered on the edge of collapse, and its bouts of melancholy were buoyed by unlikely optimism. UR FUN, by contrast, tunes its antennae to romantic love in a time of overarching social precarity. Barnes still lets nervousness guide his hand, but the stakes are muddled, as is the story. In the foreground, everything’s peachy: Barnes is stably attached and eager to sing his devotion. In the background, everything threatens to go to shit, though the specifics are generally vague.

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UR FUN dashes Barnes’ signature cheekiness against a backdrop of ’80s bubblegum, a format that reins in his more freewheeling tendencies. Lyrically, he reaches as ever for big concepts: “We know the universe/Must express itself as awful people, too/So we really just feel sad for you,” he chirps on “Peace to All Freaks,” seeking kernels of godliness in the trolls and fascists of the world, then dismissing them as best he can with a slight wave of pity. These clever lines rarely get space to breathe, though—UR FUN’s arrangements are so tidy, so pruned, that Barnes doesn’t give himself the opportunity to go out on many limbs.

A faithful chameleon, Barnes manages a canned Bowie impression on “Don’t Let Me Die in America,” and even strays into electroclash with “Get God’s Attention by Being an Atheist,” whose chorus (“We don’t give a fuck/We want it louder”) gestures more toward exhaustion than rebellion. Turning up the noise to drown out the horror might work well enough as a short term survival strategy, but it can’t do much more than seal its practitioners away, offer shelter at the expense of connection. UR FUN—a confection, a distraction, a collection of competent and sparkling pop songs—doesn’t open itself to the world as it stands in this moment. With his sardonic wit and sharp ear, Barnes insulates himself from the dreck rather than trudge through it. Armored, he deflects his surroundings. He blisses out until he starts to go numb.


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About Udara Madusanka

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