Sunshine comes softly

Of Montreal strikes a delicate balance between delightful and cloying.

by Keri Carlson

Most things in life fall into a gray area. It is rare to see something that can be easily categorized.

But power-pop or psych-pop or whatever you want to call the music that draws comparisons to Brian Wilson is often either mind-boggling, acid-trippy wonderful or cat puke. These albums create either lush sunshiny layers that melt into your ears like liquid fudge, or they pile on so much gooeyness it makes you sick, like being around a cuddling couple in public.

Of course, there are always some exceptions. The psych-poppers Of Montreal have always straddled these two extremes. The band zigzags from crafty melodies to love songs more sugary than a carton of Pixy Stix. Their albums, such as “Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse” and “Horse and Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed): The Singles and Songles Album,” showed promise. They proved lead singer Kevin Barnes could compose just as beautiful a mess of a fuzzy guitar and high falsetto harmonies as the best Elephant 6 band – the ultimate collective of power-poppers in the 1990s. But still, many Of Montreal songs will give you a toothache.

The band’s latest album, “Satanic Panic in the Attic,” finally decides which category Of Montreal belongs in. And they definitely belong in the group with the sunniest days, best surf and craziest Brian Wilsons.

“Satanic Panic” begins with “Disconnect the Dots,” that sets the theme for the album of letting all of Barnes’ ambitions loose. The song packs low-fi dance beats complete with hand claps, spacey synths and lots of sweet “oohs” and “la la da da dahs” which swirl together in a dizzying effect.

The album’s best moment comes from “My British Tour Diary,” a gleefully poppy melody where Barnes hums a list of things the band saw on their trip across the pond – including such witty exclamations as, “On our trip to England I noticed something obscene / People still give a shit about the queen” and “the most truly repellent techno music ever made.” The song then suddenly breaks down into a disco groove as Barnes cries, “Heart attack.” Most tracks on the album switch into different melodies and grooves or add so many different sounds, any structure the song has is buried.

“Satanic Panic” is like walking into a Japanese arcade for the first time. Near the end of the 14-track album, the band verges on over-stimulating the listener – think about those kids having seizures from too many flashing lights in anime. Though it can be overwhelming, the band never dips into the disgustingly cute as so many power-pop bands do. Barnes achieves this by his quirky melodies and especially his lyrics, which blur the line of cute and creepy.