“Bassem Sabry”, the opening track to of Montreal’s fifteenth album, is a red herring of the highest sort. Its wah-laden guitars and disco rhythms make you think that, after the garage-inspired reset of Lousy With Sylvianbriar, the band was returning to the psych-funk sounds they established on Skeletal Lamping, False Priest, and Paralytic Stalks. At the same time, with its focus on an Egyptian political activist, the casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that the focus might not be on frontman Kevin Barnes for a change.
Neither is true. This is an album that dives into New York City in the septic days of the late 1970s and early 1980s: cigarette-stained glam-punk, drugged-out disco dens, street-sweat funk riffs, and damn the torpedoes rock and roll. It’s a record of volume, fuzz, and widescreen ambitions, and it centers around Barnes’ failed marriage to the Norwegian woman he first bled his heart out about on the band’s breakthrough album, 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? Barnes has always had a habit of being overwrought when it comes to his lyrics (and his song titles), but on Aureate Gloom he takes that tendency to an unfortunate extreme. “Empyrean Abattoir” features lines like “Before your hysterical silence, you came rapping at my door / With your body as a sacrament, your mind a killing floor” and something about “stealing from his aureation of filth” after “masturbating your father’s pain”. What? “Virgilian Lots” compares the stability that Barnes and his wife once enjoyed to “the twin volcanoes of Cuauhnahuac”; on the next track, “Monolithic Egress”, he compares them to “the raping of the embryonic virgin spring”. The effect is rather like reading the intensely personal breakup diary of a kid (a 40-year-old kid at that) who desperately wants to be published in The Paris Review.
Aureate Gloom takes of Montreal in an interesting musical direction, one where Tom Petty and The Kinks jam with Chic and the past remains as always a grotesque animal. What it really bodes well for is the next album, the one after Barnes gets his divorce novel out of his system. The musical balancing act on display here is marred by his precocious-teenager divorce lyrics, and as a fiction writer capable of writing some pretty overwrought lines myself, it takes a lot to call someone out on that. 3/5