06 April 2007

A Song By Any Other Name (Would Sound Better)

Listening to Athens, Georgia-based band Of Montreal, I am conflicted.

To be sure, I love the band's music. It's dancefloor boogie created by people with a real talent for composing. (Or person, rather. Kevin Barnes, the only permanent part of the revolving-membership ensemble, is the primary songwriter.) The sound is fun and bouncy, even though the lyrics are about failing marriages and the like. I appreciate that contrast. It gives the good times a bit of rebellion, like when I went out dancing after I got fired from my job at a crappy bookstore or broke up with my first boyfriend. Dance, dammit! It proves they didn't win!

I'd put Of Montreal somewhere between New Pornographers (because of the classic pop structure in several of the songs) and Scissor Sisters/Beck (because of the loopy sound effects and occasional falsetto singing). I encourage you guys to go to the band's MySpace page (linked up top) and listen to the songs "Suffer for Fashion" and "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse."

A Promethean what? Exactly. Because that's the other thing with Of Montreal. Despite making good-to-great music, they are just so damn pretentious. The name of their album is "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?" Song titles include "We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling," "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger," and "Voltaic Crusher / Undrum to Muted Da."

Good God. Get over yourselves already. These ridiculous strings of words recall the reason Fall Out Boy drives me crazy. With FOB, long, punny titles like "Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends," while occasionally clever, are preemptive weapons against anyone saying the band is mainstream or inauthentic. If you have to work to remember a song's name, then it can't be for everyone, right? No matter how many people buy it? Those plastic kids that wouldn't invite you to their pool parties and made fun of you at lunch... they don't get it, right?

The New Yorker ran a really smart piece about how Fall Out Boy seems terrified of admitting that they're popular. And while Of Montreal isn't selling hundreds of thousands of copies, they're on a similarly self-conscious path to making sure they seem bizarre. It's the rock version of how hip-hop artists have to keep it real.

But here's an obvious lesson none of these bands ever seem to take: Overtly trying to seem different makes you just as inauthentic as people who desperately try to be popular.

Ultimately, it's all about wanting to be accepted, I think. It's just that Of Montreal wants to be accepted by a different clique than the ones Akon or JoJo are eager to join.

So, Of Montreal, here's my request: Please stop trying so hard. You're not David Bowie, creating an elaborate identity of freakishness in order to blend theater and rock while commenting on the fluidity of gender. You're not Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, using long song titles to accentuate the grand theatricality of your music. Right now, you're a group of talented musicians who seem afraid to drop your facade of carefully-constructed otherness. Your music already sets you apart. Why not let it speak for you, rather relying on song titles that tell us in advance how we're supposed to feel about your work and persona?

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