Diehard Of Montreal fans must be dizzy with anticipation at the news that the Athens, Georgia popsters next album will be a 70-plus minute concept album, due in April. But until then, they should be happy with two relatively recent Of Montreal collections, one of early 4-track recordings and one of B-sides and compilation contributions. While the former, Early 4-Track Recordings, is a time-travel trip to the birth of the band’s songs, in the mind and on the 4-track of frontman Kevin Barnes, the latter album, Horse & Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed): The Singles & Songles Album is a magnificent glimpse at the stage the band is in now, as creators of some of the prettiest pop songs around.
I love Of Montreal. Not only do they write catchy pop songs, with beautiful melodies and harmonies, but they have a sense for theatre and story. Their songs not only use the Beach Boys and the Kinks and other rock legends as reference points, but also the traditions of children’s literature and the theatre world. At times they tell fanciful, bedtime stories in song, with odd characters and plots; other times, they deliver straightforward, emotional messages. Most importantly, they’re not afraid to come off as cheesy. Nowadays, so many musicians seem to avoid any sort of personal statement that isn’t gloomy or self-deprecating, for fear of being labeled too cheesy. Artists that go the other route, like Of Montreal does by playing countless songs based on the simple notion of expressing love or friendship or gratitude or joy, are in danger of being derided as too inconsequential or silly. Barnes can sing something like “Dear sweet brother of mine, I feel I should say that all of the things I make with you give my life meaning” and you can tell he means it. Why is that less important than someone telling you how much life sucks?
Horse and Elephant Eatery collects songs from 7"s or compilation albums, songs that were bonus tracks on Japanese versions of their albums, and four that are previously unreleased. Given that fact, it isn’t quite as cohesive as other Of Montreal releases, but it still has a ton of great songs, from story-songs like “Ira’s Brief Life as a Spider” to straightforward heavenly pop like “The Problem With April”. There’s also a great cover of the Kinks’ “The World Keeps Going Round” and two songs written and/or sung by members of the band other than Barnes: “In the Army Kid” by Andy Gonzales (who records as The Marshmallow Coast) and “The You I Created” by Dottie Alexander. Overall, it’s a blast of fun and emotion, packed with some absolutely gorgeous songs. It’s a great treat for fans, especially those not rich enough to buy everything with “Of Montreal” written on it, but also serves as a good, solid introduction to what the band is about.