Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Follow-up to Montreal’s ‘Fauna’ is schizophrenic, ‘hedonistic’

It’s hard to tell where this went wrong.

Last year’s “Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?” saw Kevin Barnes perfect his brand of psychedelic not-quite-dance pop he’d been developing for the last five years. Unlike its predecessors, Fauna created a striking contrast through its relentless documentation of Barnes’ divorce, depression and escapism by setting it to disco beats and aggressively energetic arrangements. Followup EP “Icons, Abstract Thee” ended with “No Conclusion,” which condensed most of its predecessor into a schizophrenic, ten-minute epic of self-destruction to stunning effect.

“Skeletal Lamping”, when described by Barnes earlier this year as “one long piece with hundreds of movements,” should have played to his strengths. Instead, the album is chaotic, a manic Prince homage (or parody) so overflowing with ideas that it lacks an anchor.

These song collages remind me of the Good Idea/Bad Idea shorts from “Animaniacs”, but longer and in rapid succession. Take “Wicked Wisdom”.   Good Idea: being a headliner.   Bad Idea: shouting “I’m a motherfucking headliner” in one’s upper register for twenty seconds atop buzzing synths.   Good Idea: a fantastic vocal melody.   Bad Idea: cutting it after a few lines, going on about being “just a black she-male” and not knowing what we’re all about over weak drums.

This, with Barnes’ songwriting alter-ego Georgie Fruit standing in for Mr. Skullhead, could be played with the entire record, but given that it took a paragraph to detail two minutes of music, it’d be even more exhausting than listening.

Musically and lyrically, Barnes is relentless. There are brief reprieves, like a minute-long, dour piano piece (“Touched Something’s Hollow”), but it follows “For Our Elegant Caste,” which repeats an infuriating bongo-driven chorus for several minutes. The album then descends into electro-sleaze. “An Eluardian Instance” is pretty neat until its lush instrumentation gives way to a bunch of indie-funk nonsense, though Barnes nails it when he sings that “this inbreeding of ideas is intolerable.” “Gallery Piece” starts off wonderfully, then more lousy drums and some of Barnes’ worst lyrics in years.   “I can’t take the trash your catchy friends are spreading about us” is too easy. And then “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” opens with an exclamation: “So sick of sucking the dick of this cruel, cruel city!” It’s difficult to take in one sitting.

“Skeletal Lamping” is a mess, but as far as unsuccessful records go, it’s strikingly replayable. Barnes throws every idea he could possibly develop into a sprawling mess, exploring his sexuality so thoroughly and in such a baffling manner that it’s more bizarre than appealing. It’s un-danceable dance-pop. But its madness often yields brilliance, like “Beware Our Nubile Miscreants,” where Barnes’ retains a basic verse structure, yet constantly swaps instrumentation before going for a blown-out finish, and the concise and restrained “Death Is Not a Parallel Move,” which goes acoustic at its most threatening.

The fact that someone was willing to produce this, as hedonistic and unendearing as it is, seems like an accomplishment in itself. It’s hard not to give him credit despite yielding such mixed results.

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