Having listened to this album on repeat for two days, I feel both gratified and misled. Like Odysseus wrestling with Proteus on the sands, at the beginning of this experience, I was a merry young boy, chasing an iridescent butterfly through the woods; but as night wore on, and the full moon came out, I discovered myself to be a middle-aged hunter pursuing a shapeshifting white tiger, hypnotized and captured by his black stripes of illusion. What happened to butterfly? What happened to myself?
These are questions I found myself asking whilst listening to Of Montreal’s thirteenth album ‘Aureate Gloom’. And it’s no surprise such feelings were evoked in me: written in an orgy of creativity in three weeks in New York with the intention of capturing the spirit of such mid to late 70’s art-punk bands such as Talking Heads and Television, its composition followed on the heels of lead singer Kevin Barne’s separation from his wife of eleven years, and his subsequent efforts to reconcile his erratic vacillations between liberation and loss. And erratic the album most definitely is: an uncompromising kaleidoscopic welter of polymorphic juxtapositions, the album is full of starts and stops, stylistic mutations, changing time signature and restless key signatures, desultorily following the schizophrenic stream of consciousness lyrics of the singer through art punk and freak out pscyhedelia. To paraphrase a line from ‘Apolloyon Of Blue Room’, it is a true ‘riot of the psyche’ – as Barnes himself said, it was an expression of his effort “to re-establish his identity outside of coupledom”.
Thus, ‘Aureate Gloom’ is every bit as complex as this endeavour – a real maze of music – and one I have not quite been able to escape from. Staying true to its influences, the album draws on the dilapidating horror and jubilant paranoia of classics such as ‘Fear of Music’ and then exceeds it. Beginning with the deranged disco song ‘Bassem Sabry’ – guaranteed to cause funky convulsions of the spine and pelvis – the music does not stay still, and neither will you. From such an opening as this, I had almost convinced myself this would be a fun, colourful, wildly off-centre album. And it is. But, beneath the surface, there is a massive storehouse of pain and psychosis, which gives the songs an enduring and elusive power. “Seeking out his own authentic season in Hell” the music is troubled, conflicted, flitting between manic certainties – later refuted – demonic, paranoid, hallucinatory, and spirited. Use a rainbow for a noose. Watch men drown in Rorschach Blots. See the side of Christ pierced by Unicorn Horn. With an album as abstracted as this, only subconscious scenery will suffice.
‘Aluminium Crown’ is one of my favourite tracks. A spasmodic punk song, it is bookended by two sections of mesmerizing shoegaze as Barnes confesses that he has been “cursed by troubled dreams”. ‘Monolithic Egress’ is a song that absolutely refuses to be caught. Wild and polymathic, the music transforms almost every few bars, containing a freak out that would have made Frank Zappa proud, irregularly-metred riffs aplenty, and a dissonant rupture of violins. Sounding like the title to a Jorge Luis Borges or Aleister Crowley short story, ‘Chthonian Dirge For Uruk The Other’ sounds exactly like its title: a doom-laden grenade of noise-rock, it is the most directly terrifying and disquieting song on the album, a murderous romp through an ancient Babylonian temple complex, being chased by a meat cleaver-wielding high priest all too eager to sacrifice and consume you. And the sombre fadeout on ‘Estocadas’ is a great piece of understated brilliance, the music thinning brittle, pronouncing the ineluctable termination of a dying marriage.
I cannot claim to have tamed the beast – nor have I caught the butterfly or the white tiger – it is ‘Aureate Gloom’ which has rendered me captive. I have not yet escaped from this maze of music; but the more I wander through its shapeshifting catacombs, the less I feel inclined to leave. So I leave you with this self-penned verse:
Get lost and learn to love it.
Sink into this Aureate Gloom.