Kevin Barnes has created a indie-pop masterpiece that picks up where Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? left off and grows new limbs in a genre that is ripe for something original. Barnes wrote everything on the album and plays most of the instruments in his studio, which is located in the attic of his Athens home. His touring band consists of musicians and visual artists that include painters, and sculptors for the elaborate stage show.
Skeletal Lamping is the ninth studio album by Athens, Georgia-based band. Kevin Barns’ Athens roots goes back to when he shared a house with Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel and Will Hart and Bill Doss from Olivia Tremor Control. One can only imagine what that must of been like in the early days of what would become the Elephant 6 Recording Company. Barnes began to break away from his Elephant 6 roots with Of Montreal’s 2001 release Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies before completely reinventing his sound with 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic. The latter showed Barnes’ new affinity with an electronic funk sound infused with a greater touch of lyrical flamboyance that would reach maturity with Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?.
This record follows the exploits of Barnes’s alter ego Georgie Fruit. Georgie is a black she-male and has gone through multiple sex changes (from a man to a woman and then back to a man). Georgie is Ziggy Stardust meets Brian Wilson on ecstasy. The album follows his travels though a perverse world littered with perilous lust and glee.
The title of the album is from a lyric on Hissing Fauna’s “Faberge Falls For Shuggie.” When asked about the title, Kevin Barnes said:
“This record is my attempt to bring all of my puzzling, contradicting, disturbing, humorous…fantasies, ruminations and observations to the surface, so that I can better dissect and understand their reason for being in my head.”
Lyrically, this album teeters on the dark side of Barnes’ inner consciousness and sexual fantasies while keeping the listener unaware of what is coming next. The vocal rich songs follow the sexual exploits of Georgie Fruit as he/she contemplates sex or suicide. Kevin Barnes pens the lyrics of the year with, “We can do it soft-core if you want, but you should know I take it both ways.” The genius of the lyrics is Barnes ability to write in a way that will purposely confuse so that you have no idea what will follow. A perfect example is “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” which starts off with the smooth soul sound of one of Barry White’s ‘I want to make love to you all night’ songs. And the lyrics juxtapose this soulful style when Barnes opens the song with “I’m so sick of sucking the dick . . . of this cruel, cruel city.” And later “Maybe I’ll blow you . . . what ever kind of kisses you want, because you’ve got so much in common with my big cock creator.” Barnes seems to have traded in most of his depression and angst for sex and lust — and it works, although songs like “Touched Something’s Hollow” are dark enough to make that jump from the 31st floor look inviting.
After a tour with MGMT, Barnes and Andrew VanWyngarden began work on a side project called project called Blikk Fang that might see light of day in early 2009. When VanWyngarden was asked about Kevin Barnes writing skills he commented:
“Kevin is constantly pushing the boundaries of pop, which is inspirational to slackers like us. He’s making the Black Albums and Station to Stations of today.”
Influences are wide open on this release. The opening track “Nonpareil of Favor” contains an Animal Collective type of a repeating drum (noise) beat, while songs like “Wicked Wisdom” could of been a b-side to Prince’s Purple Rain. The best way to describe this is fractured indie-pop. There are songs that contain more than five different key changes and numerous tempo diversions, yet it all works. While fifteen tracks are listed, there are really about thirty songs assembled together that create the sonic power of The Beatles’ Revolver with the party-like composition of Girl Talk’s Night Ripper.
Ultimately Skeletal Lamping displays the genius of Kevin Barnes as both a modern day songwriting virtuoso and lyrical mastermind. He has created an epic record here that will, without a doubt, stand the test of time. It is the quintessential psyche-pop record if you had to stuff it into a genre box. This is a serious contender for album of the year.