If you were tasked with creating a mix that accurately represents the best of the Kevin Barnes canon, what would you include? Inevitably, plenty of tracks from the of Montreal frontman’s early years, the beautifully shambolic Elephant 6 stuff á la “Tim I Wish You Were Born a Girl” and “Dustin Hoffman Thinks About Eating the Soap”. Then some transitional material — the Satanic Panic in the Attic era, when Barnes began conflating his undying love for ‘60s psych pop with funky bass lines and groove-oriented drum patterns. The last portion of the playlist would be dedicated to Barnes’ strongest overall achievement, 2007’s urgent, colorful dance-rock masterpiece Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? And then that’d likely be it.
Similar to the rest of the post-Hissing Fauna catalog, of Montreal’s latest effort, Aureate Gloom, which tries to give a meticulous, modern facelift to ‘70s glam rock, is a solid piece of work full of fine songs. If you’re a Barnes completist, it’s totally worth a listen. For everyone else, it’s hardly essential. No matter how good the tracks are here — and occasionally, like with hard-nosed opener “Bassem Sabry” and the spot-on T. Rex pastiche “Monolithic Egress”, they are, in fact, quite good — it’s hard to shake the feeling of déjà vu, the sense that all of these songs are lesser shadows of older, better ones. Maybe this can be viewed as a reflection of Barnes’ steely-eyed dedication to molding a specific sound, but it also can be a sign of complacency.
If Aureate Gloom brings nothing new to the table sonically, its lyrics are often interesting, showcasing an especially irate side of Barnes that hasn’t been this prominent since “The Past Is a Grotesque Animal”. “Don’t you know it’s pointless/ To try and bully me into caring more?” he snarls on the manic, hook-heavy “Last Rites at the Jane Hotel”. On “Empyrean Abattoir” he’s even more direct: “I’ve been trying to quell my anger/ And not feel bitter about all the darkness you gave.” His words give all the songs an added emotional punch, which helps make Aureate Gloom feel like a necessary addition to the Barnes catalog, even though it probably isn’t.
Essential Tracks: “Bassem Sabry”, “Aluminum Crown”, and “Monolithic Egress”