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Friday, Feb. 13, 2009
In the late 1990s, the band Of Montreal had deals with two different Japanese independent labels, including the estimable Quattro Records, which reportedly did very well by the American outfit. It's easy to see why. Of all the groups that emerged from the Elephant 6 collective of freewheeling psychedelic pop bands (Elf Power, Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, etc.), Of Montreal were the most melodic and sincere in their pursuit of innocent romanticism, what with their use of toy keyboards, lightly strummed guitars and leader Kevin Barnes' evocation of love in terms of flowers and childlike wonder. It was a quality they inadvertently shared with much of the Japanese underground at the time.
All their albums since the demise of Quattro Records some six or seven years ago have been licensed locally, but every time it's been by a different record company. Nobody seems willing to stick with them, even though their U.S. popularity has grown considerably.
Maybe it's because Of Montreal have changed. Though still earnest and lyrical, Barnes has become more of a conscientious artist, his albums more aggressively conceptual and, at times, even darker. They've also become noticeably funkier, a manifestation of the influence of Barnes' alter-ego, Georgie Fruit, who, legend has it, once played in a '70s funk band called Arousal.
On stage, this translates as sexual come-ons and even downright confrontation, complete with skits and costume changes, a performance approach that seems improbable when listening to the group's 1997 debut, "Cherry Peel," with its sweet melancholia and halting obsession with unrequited love. Some critics have seen this new direction as proof of Barnes' instability (he supposedly suffers from depression) and his disdain for the polite, serious "indie" image he tends to get saddled with. Still, no one denies that he's more creatively potent than ever. In terms of hooks, which is what great pop music usually comes down to, the guy is a monster, no matter how weirdly he dresses.
Of Montreal play March 10 at Shinsaibashi Club Quattro, Osaka (7 p.m.;  6281-8181); and March 12 at Shibuya Duo Music Exchange, Tokyo (7 p.m.;  3462-6969). Tickets for each show are ¥5,250 in advance.