Wednesday, August 17, 2016

of Montreal Albums Ranked


The best quote I've ever heard about of Montreal is from former member Dottie West in the documentary "The Past is a Grotesque Album" (paraphrased): "Either you've never heard of us, or we're you're favorite band of all time".  That isn't an inaccurate sentiment, as I don't know anyone who has two or three of Montreal records.  Seemingly, if you own more than one record, you own more than ten.  And amazingly, with that many albums, there really aren't many duds in the group.

So, since they have long been one of my favorite bands and are probably the artist I find myself going back to the most, I figured it would be interesting trying to rank their albums, EP's and compilations.  I will go ahead and preface this with the knowledge that since Kevin Barnes is literally a musical chameleon, I'm sure there is an album you love that is on the lower end, or one that you hate that is in my top 5.  But that is something even more incredible about this band: there isn't some fan agreed on definitive list of their best work.  Everyone seems to love different records for different reasons and other fans totally get it.

Another quick note: While I'm counting a few EP's separate, I actually included Icons, Abstract Thee with Hissing Fauna since 4 of the 5 tracks are part of the vinyl release and thats the version I first heard.  Icons is incredible and does kind of deserve mention as its own project, but I have trouble separating the two so for the purpose of this list it is with Hissing Fauna.  On its own, I don't really know exactly where it would be, but probably still in the top 5.  It was a true golden era.

So without further ado, Kevin Barnes' of Montreal ranked.


21. thecontrollersphere EP (Polyvinyl - 2011)


Since it came out I've never enjoyed this EP, and I still can't find much of anything positive to say about it.  The opening track is loud and goes nowhere, the second song, "Flunkt Sass vs the Root Plume" has its moments but isn't very memorable.  The second side has a long and repetitive opening song and doesn't get a ton better from there, though "Slave Translator" is the most listenable song in my opinion.  I will sometimes put it on to see if I'm missing something, but I'm yet to find that something.  



20. If He Is Protecting Our Nation Then Who Will Protect Big Oil, Our Children? (Self-Released - 2002)


Originally sold as a tour only compilation album of unreleased and alternate versions, you can hear a lot of Gay Parade and Coquelicot in these songs, but it is clear they are b-sides at best.  There are a few standouts, in particular "Cast in the Haze (Been There Four Days)", which was one of Kevin/Jamey's best collaborative songwriting efforts.  But overall, it is for hardcore fans only and is unlikely to be something you regularly listen to, even if you're favorite albums are from the pre-Aldhils era.



19. The Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy (Kindercore - 1998)


I've heard arguments against this being the worst of Montreal studio album, with more than one person declaring it their all-time favorite, but it still falls at the bottom of my list.  It isn't that it is a bad album, and in fact some of the songwriting is quite good.  It just happens to be boring for the most part (which is probably the biggest insult to Kevin Barnes one can give).  "One of a Very Few of a Kind" and "Honeymoon in San Francisco" are my two favorites on here, but outside of those two songs and a few others, it just seems like a lackluster bridge between the outstanding Cherry Peel and Gay Parade.  



18. Young Froth/Taypiss (Self-Released - 2013)


This is more of an occasional interesting listen than a remarkably good collection of songs.  The more you listen, the more you can start to hear Kevin Barnes experimenting and heading towards the songwriting style and lo-fi sound that would define his early work, such as Cherry Peel and The Gay Parade.  There are some songs like "Drachnids" and "Propaganda" that I find myself going back to, but overall it is just a unique look into the mind of a young Kevin.  That said, if you're lucky enough to have one of the other 682 copies out there, I hope you keep them safe and give them a listen every once in awhile.



17. The Bird Who Continues to Eat the Rabbit's Flower (Kindercore - 1999)


There are a lot of catchy songs from the first few years, but "If I Faltered Slightly Twice" might top them all.  That song, combined with "You Are an Airplane" make this EP a good listen.  The full 9-track re-release contains some covers that are good, yet not terribly essential or exciting.  It is worth a listen for sure, but it is likely you'll pick your favorites and let the rest pass you by.  



16. Aldhils Arboretum (Kindercore - 2002)


Something I do love about this album is that every song has a unique story to tell.  It just doesn't have that defined sound that its predecessor Coquelicot or the follow-up Satanic Panic had, leaving it feeling somewhat disjointed at times.  From the documentary and what I've read, this album was the one that Kevin had the least creative control on.  Some people might like the diversity and cleaner, more guitar-driven sound, but to me it is one of the staler releases, seeming less like an album and more of a collection of singles. "An Ode to the Nocturnal Muse" and "Kissing in the Grass" are both standout tracks, but my favorite song from this album and one of my most listened to songs ever has to be "Jennifer Louise", which embodies all that is right with this album: witty, catchy, story-driven and thought provoking.


15. The Early Four Track Recordings (Kindercore - 2001)


This collection of early songs is my favorite of the pre-Cherry Peel compilations, though it is sometimes hard to remember which song I want to listen to since the titles serve no purpose except to tell a strange story about Dustin Hoffman.  Even so, I will never forget that the one-two punch of "Dustin Hoffman Does Not Resist the Temptation to Eat the Bathtub" and "Dustin Hoffman's Wife Comes Home" are some of the very best early Kevin Barnes songs.  It may not be an album you listen to all of the time or think about, but it is definitely worth an occasional spin.  



14. Horse & Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed): The Singles and Songles Album (Bar/None - 2000)


It is impressive how well this collection flows together, seeing as it is a compilation of b-sides, rare tracks and unreleased songs from the early years of the band.  The funny storytelling aspects are there, with each song telling its own little tale with new characters introduced second to second.  It is unlikely to convince someone the value of early of Montreal music if they don't already enjoy it, but it is essential for those who already do. "Scenes From My Funeral" is a personal favorite, as well as "The Problem With April".  



13. Daughter of Cloud (Polyvinyl - 2012)


This compilation of unreleased songs and rarities from the golden age of Barnes (Hissing Fauna, Skeletal, etc.) has some real gems.  The opening track, "Our Love is Senile", is one of the true standouts, as is "Tender FAx".  There are a couple of songs that could have stayed unreleased, but overall, this is easily the best of the unreleased/rarity compilations from the band.  Check out the version of "Feminine Effects" from this album featuring Rebecca Cash's vocals, which gives it an interesting feel as compared to the numerous other versions I've heard (my personal favorite being from the Deerhoof split).

12. False Priest (Polyvinyl - 2010)


False Priest gets a bad wrap for having to follow-up a string of increasingly popular and acclaimed albums.  I still remember this being hyped more than any other of Montreal album, thanks to the featured artists and the Jon Brion production.  In the end, it is a good album, just not a great one.  When it hits, it hits hard, with songs like "I Feel Ya Strutter", "Sex Karma" and "Girl Named Hello" being among my favorite Kevin songs.  But half of the tracks sound more like over-produced R&B remixes of outtakes from previous albums than the ever-evolving and unique sound we had come to expect from Kevin at this point.  Admittedly though, I definitely have days where I need to listen to something and only False Priest will do.  

11. Aureate Gloom (Polyvinyl - 2015)


Released two years after LousyAureate Gloom keeps the full band rock feel from its predecessor and takes it to much darker places (with the genre addition of "alternative country" poking in from time to time).  It has some great late-prediod of Montreal songs, in particular "Bassem Sabry", "Empyrean Abattoir"and "Virgillian Lots", but overall, the songwriting is less consistent than the previous effort, particularly on the second side.  That being said, "Estocadas" is one of the coolest deep-cut of Montreal songs.  A year later and I think it is still growing on, so who knows how much it will rise or fall on this list over time.



10. Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse (Kindercore - 2001)


While The Gay Parade has whimsy in spades, I don't think Kevin ever delved as far into the world of fantastical storytelling as he did here on Coquelicot.  Each songs transports you into another interesting tale that gives insight into the strange fantasy world of early of Montreal, with character-based songs like "Penelope" and "Rose Robert" standing out as some of the early best.  The back half features some of his better piano-based songs, such as "Let's Go For a Walk", "It's Just So" and "A Dreamy Day of Dreaming of You".  Nothing can quite compare to the 17+ minute closing piano masterpiece, "The Hopeless Opus or the Great Battle of the Unfriendly Ridiculous", which showcases the true instrumental and songwriting talent of Kevin Barnes. 



9. The Gay Parade (Bar/None - 1999)


After a lo-fi indie rock masterpiece, Kevin wanted to introduce us to a new world, and he did that exceptionally well on his third album.  The Gay Parade, similar to Coquelicot, focuses on many fantastical characters, from the "Fun Loving Nun" to the "Miniature Philosopher", each with their own witty song.  What makes this such a great concept album is the feeling of unity throughout.  None of the characters are directly related, but the storytelling style and the songwriting makes one feel as if this could be a fantastical collection of short stories set to music.  The last song, "Nickee Coco and the Invisible Tree", really ties it all together perfectly though, giving us the wonderful anthem chorus to close out the album and a funny story to go along with it.  This is the most-lighthearted listen if you're looking for a purely good time.  



8. The Sunlandic Twins (Polyvinyl - 2005)


Putting this album as low as number 8 feels very wrong, because it is an incredible album and really helped get me into of Montreal, but there are just so many great albums that this is where it happens to land.  From start to finish, some of Kevin's best melodies are across this synth and dance driven classic.  "Wraith Pinned to the Mist & Other Games" is the reason most casual listeners know the band, and that paired with "Requiem for O.M.M.2" and you already have two amazing hits.  But some of the darker side of this record, like "I Was a Landscape in Your Dream", are true standouts.  If you're looking for an entertaining listen and like the more danceable aspects of the band, this might be the album you find yourself coming back to most frequently.


7. Lousy With Sylvianbriar (Polyvinyl - 2013)


After years of songs dwelling in Kevin's head until he fleshes them out on a computer mostly relying on his own instrumentation, of Montreal once again became a band.  The result is a record that sounds like it could have just as easily been recorded in 1969 as 2013.  What makes this record such a standout in the catalog isn't the newfound sound however, it is the superb songwriting, not reliant on production or expansive instrumentation.  "She Ain't Speakin' Now", "Triumph of Disintegration", "Obsidian Currents" and "Raindrop in my Skull" are some of Kevin's best songs, not to mention the 7" single from this era, "Jigsaw Puzzle".  It may have turned off some fans of the mid-00's sound, but to me, it was a welcome break to showcase one of the best melody writers of our time at his best.  



6. Innocence Reaches (Polyvinyl - 2016)


Sure, this is probably a high ranking for an album that just came out, but I literally cannot stop listening to Innocence Reaches.  I wasn't as opposed to the Lousy/Aureate style as some other fans were, but I also didn't realize how much I missed electronic of Montreal.  This is the best of both worlds, alternating between highly danceable tunes like "it's different for girls" and my personal favorite "let's relate" with the psychedelic rock, full-band songs like "chaos arpeggiating" and "les chants de maldoror".  The two most intriguing songs to me that could be major jumping-off points for the next album are "ambassador bridge" and "nursing slopes", both combining the different sounds of the rest of the album very effectively into low-key and catchy tracks.  The future is bright and I couldn't be happier with the new record, critics be damned! 



5. Cherry Peel (Bar/None - 1997)


This is where it all began, and stands alone in the catalog as the only album that really sounds totally raw and unpolished.  Kevin Barnes had spent years writing catchy, pop-jingles and decided to record them however he wanted to and in the process, made a should-be indie rock classic.  "Everything Disappears When You Come Around" is hilarious and catchy beyond belief. "I Can't Stop Your Memory" is a beautiful song. "Don't Ask Me To Explain" is one of the best of Montreal songs. "Tim Wish You Were Born a Girl" is frequently stuck in my head and is a great example of the band's versatility, even from an early age.  And that is just naming a few of the 14 incredible songs that opened up an amazing career (that sounds little to nothing like it for the most part, outside of the humorous and pop-sensible songwriting).  If you're a fan of the later classic oM albums but could never get into the early sound, try again and start here.

4. Paralytic Stalks (Polyvinyl - 2012)


Paralytic Stalks moves all over this list.  When it came out, I really didn't like it.  Then, a few years later, it was one of my all time favorites.  As for now, well it still remains closer to the top. It has some of my all time favorite of Montreal songs, like "Spiteful Intervention" and "Dour Percentage", but it also has songs like "Exorcismic Breeding Knife", which are long and fail to really develop or catch my interest.  The best example of this might be the closing track, "Authentic Pyrrhic Remission", which opens with an incredibly catchy song, followed by 5+ minutes of random ambient noises and light instrumentation before closing with a beautiful 2 minute piano-based song. All things considered, the sound that Kevin developed on here is absolutely outstanding and is unlike anything else he has ever done.  "Wintered Debts" and "Gelid Ascent" are both excellent showcases for this expansive sound, and if you, like me, didn't enjoy it when it first came out, give it another try. It might just be the best album you've ever heard. 

3. Satanic Panic in the Attic (Polyvinyl - 2004)


Satanic Panic in the Attic is the turning point.  The point at which of Montreal became less of a band and became more of Kevin Barnes' therapy sessions with himself recorded that us fans are lucky enough to here.  This is where the layered vocal harmonies all singing whatever the hell they want to began ("Lysergic Bliss").  This is where Kevin showed that he could produce an all-over the place song, but keep it catchy enough to have it be a single ("Disconnect the Dots").  He showed that he could still write a nice slower acoustic song ("City Bird").  Basically, he showed that there is nothing he cannot do, and is one of the all time greatest musicians.  There might be more compelling singles on some other albums, but overall, this is one of his most consistently amazing albums.  



2. Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl - 2008)


I will never understand how the first reviews of Skeletal Lamping were anything but glowing.  Kevin Barnes perfectly emulates his two biggest idols, Prince and Bowie, and makes a glam-funk masterpiece. Most of the songs are actually 3-4 different songs slapped together, with unexpected twists and turns every couple of minutes, yet somehow flowing as a single piece start to finish.  "Touched Something's Hollow" and "An Eluardian Instance" couldn't be more different songs, but they piece together magnificently.  The Georgie Fruit character is in full force, with songs like "St. Exquisite's Confessions" and "For Our Elegant Caste" giving his character the voice it needs, while other songs like "Beware Our Nubile Miscreants" combine Georgie's elaborate sexuality with Barne's storytelling prowess.  The real highlight here might be the 7-minute long "Plastis Wafers", which nails every thing I love about of Montreal perfectly. 



1. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl - 2007)


This is the obvious choice, but that doesn't make it the wrong choice.  Hissing Fauna is Kevin Barnes' masterpiece, with classic lyrics, melodies, harmonies, production, instrumentation and everything else in between, from start to finish.  Everything is polished just enough, while keeping the rawer, more indie sound that had always defined of Montreal, in tact.  But what truly makes this album one of the best ever recorded is the fact that it is a quasi-concept album of two characters, divided by 12-minute long "The Past is a Grotesque Animal".  The first half of the album is the autobiographical, "Kevin" side.  "Suffer for Fashion" is one of his best album openers, followed by the connected, darker tracks "Sink the Seine" and "Cato as a Pun".  "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" and "Gronlandic Edit" might be the two best songs of Montreal ever recorded, the latter in particular standing out as Kevin's true classic.  The catchy "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger" serves as the perfect lead in to the aforementioned "Grotesque Animal".  

Somewhere into the magnificent 12-minutes however, Kevin Barnes in his depressed state, mourning the end (and later rebirth) of his relationship with Nina, becomes his alter-ego who would exist on the next few albums to come.  Georgie Fruit, who would play a much bigger role on Skeletal Lamping, glides seamlessly into the fold, with "Bunny Ain't no Kind of Rider" and "Faberge Falls for Shuggie", (which takes the time to announced the next three album titles in the catchiest of manners). The last three songs keep up this excellent, more danceable vibe.  

Since my original copy of this album was on vinyl, I actually had no idea that "Du Og Meg", "Voltaic Crusher/Undrum to Muted Da", "Derailments in a Place of Our Own" and "No Conclusion" were in fact not part of this original album but instead 4/5 songs from the EP Icons, Abstract Thee.  Thus, I am counting that EP as part of Hissing Fauna.  It would still be #1 without these songs, but they add so much more to an already perfect album, particularly "No Conclusion", which is one of the all-time greatest breakup songs.  

If you've never heard it, you're truly missing out.  That goes for this album, and most all of the rest of them.  I hope you've enjoyed reading this ranking of albums.  If you already listen to of Montreal, I'm sure you hate most of this list because your favorite could easily be any one of these.  If you don't already listen to of Montreal, give it a try, you're missing out.