Certain albums will forever be associated with summer, not just because of the time of year they're released, and not because of intense marketing efforts, but because they'll never lose the glow of relaxed barefoot strolls through grass and sand. Of Montreal's The Sunlandic Twins, the eighth full-length in as many years from the Athens, Georgia-based collective, is one of those albums. It is founder and frontman Kevin Barnes's tribute to the warmer months' perfect combination of daydreaming and dance parties.
This is the second album written and recorded almost entirely by Barnes (because some members pursuing other projects, the band that once lived together now only plays and tours together), but he faithfully maintains the group's spirit. Although Of Montreal's style is ever-evolving, sixties psych has historically been the common denominator. But The Sunlandic Twins includes programmed drumbeats and a variety of keyboard sounds to introduce eighties synth to the mix. Rather than merely imitating his predecessors, though, Barnes selectively pursues their lines of thought, making his song structure into a philosophical game of Jenga, balancing everything from Bowie and Byrne to the Kinks.
For all its delectable dance tracks, infused with Barnes' latest influences of Afrobeat, disco and electronic music, The Sunlandic Twins still offers thoughtful lyrics and emotionally heady songs. Late in the album's journey from a poppy requiem for a lost relationship to a discussion of some of the questions that appear life's quieter moments, the penultimate track, "Keep Sending Me Black Fireworks," taps into some of the ominous energy of Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack. That film's translated title, "Life Out of Balance," could easily be transferred to some of the late tracks on The Sunlandic Twins.
If the danceable tunes and contemplative numbers The Sunlandic Twins are perfect for summertime, then the accompanying four-song EP will carry the album into fall and winter, making this a year-round tour de force. With the EP's "Art Snob Solutions," Barnes reminds us to drop the affectation and stop trying to out-do fellow creative types.
Still, this album offers enough pop hooks, vocal harmonies and sudden key changes to make it perfect for the beach. The most danceable track, "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games," will, like so many others on the album, stay in your head for days. With all that The Sunlandic Twins offers for delightful consumption (at least until next year, when a newly transformed Of Montreal will release another album), this is one history and philosophy lesson likely to make starving artists shake their booties.
Barnes split time between the United States and his wife's native Norway while writing and recording this album, so tracks such as "Forecast Fascist Future" and "Oslo in the Summertime" reveal some of the uneasiness in today's global climate. In the end, Barnes has an optimistic answer to the questions he poses: "It's a violent world/ But there's still beauty/ I'll take care of you if you take care of me."
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