In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about songs with a cappella interludes.
A list of things you may have seen if you saw Of Montreal in concert in the latter half of the last decade:
- Elaborate, marine-life-like hand-wear
- Background dancers in glittery ninja masks
- A rideable dragon beast with multiple luchador heads
- Fake human/pig hybrids
- An actual horse
- Masked creatures of all shapes and sizes assaulting each other and/or frontman Kevin Barnes
- Kevin Barnes’ penis
Amid a wildly productive period for the band—with a studio output that included five LPs and three EPs released between 2004 and 2010—the Of Montreal live experience exploded into a traveling psych-pop cabaret. It was a spectacle equal parts Parliament-Funkadelic, Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, and community-college theater-department student showcase, the visually busy translation of Barnes’ ever-mutating musical sensibility.
But with Of Montreal, a sonic theatricality proceeded the floorshow—even when Barnes was working alone. Following a series of kaleidoscopic concept records brimming with spoken interludes, sudden course corrections, and colorful character studies, Barnes withdrew for 2004’s Satanic Panic In The Attic, recording most of the album by himself. It’s a transitional document, foreshadowing future experiments in electronic textures and glammed-up funk while calling back to the “Let’s put on a show!” aesthetic of its predecessors. Nowhere is that transition (and tension) more apparent than “Lysergic Bliss,” which kicks off with seagull cries borrowed from “Tomorrow Never Knows” and breaks into a cascade of multi-tracked falsetto voices, a jaunty arrangement implying the chemical reaction of the song’s title (and the puppy love in its lyrics).
And then: Four sharp raps on a music stand, a hushed female voice, and the track’s true claim to bliss. The a cappella bridge that leads to “Lysergic Bliss”’ outro is the stuff of the younger Of Montreal, ambitious in scope and spontaneous in nature. And yet it’s more organically integrated than any of the showy interruptions on the band’s previous releases, probably owing to the fact that the only person Barnes had to orchestrate in order to pull it off was Kevin Barnes. The unaccompanied voices are so intricately and expertly woven together, it’s difficult to pick out the individual parts unless you’re watching a campus a cappella group covering the song. (And why would you go searching that out unless you happened to punch “lysergic bliss a cappella” into YouTube for the purposes of journalistic due diligence?) With Of Montreal, the show hasn’t always been onstage; with “Lysergic Bliss,” the ludicrous orgy of sound, color, spectacle, and character is all in your mind.