Of Montreal and XTC
16 February 1999
The Gay Parade
Before Of Montreal was one of the most discussed indie bands of the 21st century, they were merely a charming remnant of the Elephant 6 collective, working first within the Kindercore label’s oft-praised stable of psych-pop tweesters, then struggling to survive the scene’s dissolution. Years later it seems clear that the major turning point for the band came with the signing to Polyvinyl and the release of 2004’s grandiose Satanic Panic in the Attic, but way back in 1999, when more people thought Of Montreal was a description of origin than a band name, Kevin Barnes and his shifting outfit released their first truly cohesive, brilliant collection of songs.
The Gay Parade sprung out of the Athens psych-pop pack to show that Barnes and his band should no longer be relegated to the side stage behind the Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. Filled with lighthearted piano, bright guitars, a hodge-podge of effects, and bouncing melodies, The Gay Parade is suffused with a smiling, wide-eyed joy that those only familiar with Barnes’s recent work would find surprising. With the standard Beatles influence worn on its sleeves, the trippy light psychedelia of “Tulip Baroo”, “The March of the Gay Parade”, and “Y the Quale and Vaguely Bird Noisily” could have spilled out of any yellow submarine or lonely hearts club band, while “The Miniature Philosopher” and “A Man’s Life Flashing Before His Eyes While He and His Wife Drive Off a Cliff Into the Ocean” reveal hints of the everyday melancholy that would mark much of Of Montreal’s work in the future.
Certainly, as a band Of Montreal is constantly evolving, as is the songwriting of Kevin Barnes, but it’s informative to look back at this period in the group’s discography to reveal the path he’s charted. The Gay Parade was the first fully-formed expression of Barnes’s musical ambitions, a testament to the goddess who gave his hometown a name, and a huge leap forward from the spare twee recordings Of Montreal had yet produced. It’s the foundation for all that was to come, even as much of its innocence and lo-fi organic pop sound fell away over the years. And if a shot in the dark in 1999, The Gay Parade proved its strength by continuing the psych-pop dreams of its peers into the next century. Patrick Schabe
17 February 1999
Apple Venus Vol. 1
Opening with plucked strings and the sounds of droplets falling, XTC’s Apple Venus, Vol. 1 makes an immediate and surprising impression. A new direction for the band is made clear at once. It’s only when Andy Partridge’s distinctive vocals come in that it becomes obvious that this is XTC, albeit an XTC making some changes.
Their first album since 1992’s much poppier Nonsuch, Apple Venus, Vol. 1 shifts to a more acoustic sound with extensive use of orchestral arrangements. Songs such as the spare “Knights in Shining Karma”, the vitriolic “Your Dictionary”, and the restrained “Harvest Festival” all offer the listener an opportunity to glimpse the musical turns XTC has taken. The band was moving forward and changing in ways that led keyboardist and lead guitarist Dave Gregory to quit a 20-year stint over creative differences during recording. Nonetheless, the band went on to create an album of sparse beauty with gorgeous melodies, biting lyrics, and allusions to 20th century classical music—a mix of the expected with the unexpected, and wholly successful in execution.
Marked by Partridge’s idiosyncratic songwriting (along with bassist Colin Moulding’s contribution of two of the more traditional XTC-sounding songs), Apple Venus, Vol. 1 fits into XTC’s previous discography while also carving out a new direction. The album is not one easily identified by its time period. In fact, ten years later it sounds as fresh as if it were just released, no easy feat for any band, much less one with such a distinct sound. Apple Venus, Vol. 1 is an ambitious album, and one that manages to exceed expectations for a band that had been releasing music for the last 20 years. J.M. Suarez