Aureate Gloom is not an album to leave anything to doubt. Like of Montreal’s twelve previous albums, this latest release features a cover that lovingly, obsessively pastiches the likes of The Incredible String Band. It has a title that could mocks hazy, early ‘70s pretension. Opening track, ‘Bassem Sabry’, arrives in a barrage of guitars pretending to be jets landing, ‘Back in the USSR’-style, and rolls into a funk-laden slice of melodrama that sounds like an exercise in replicating Roxy Music.
In fact, the track is a tribute to Egyptian freedom of speech blogger and activist of the same name, who died tragically in 2014. Singer and writer Kevin Barnes' identification with those who stand up to oppression is admirable, and fits closely with his outsider status (he sings as a reincarnated ‘70s glam singer called Georgie Fruit). However, the problems with Aureate Gloom are encapsulated in this song, which distracts entirely from its themes with relentless layers of styling, lyrics filtered through jabbing and effect-laden guitars that seem to be part of an elaborate exercise in pastiche. On previous albums, since Georgie's arrival on 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, the funk tributes and the perverse retreat into the past have made some sense. However, the layered ironies of Aureate Gloom prove impossible to take seriously and, some of the time at least, this seems to be what Barnes is asking. It is as though of Montreal are determined to hide their bushel under a gigantic lava lamp, and this is only track one.
The rest of the album delivers a great deal more of the same. Stylistically, there is little variation and no deviation from the lush, decadent sound of forty years ago. That is not to say that this music isn't entertaining. There is fun to be had in juggling the transition from late era psychedelia into funk and glam rock, and playing with the sounds that hypnotised a generation. However, the fun is mostly being enjoyed by the band. Artists such as St. Vincent and The Fiery Furnaces spring to mind throughout Aureate Gloom, but where Annie Clark and the Friedburgers take the era as a jumping off point for something that sounds new, of Montreal's songs insist on sounding like something else.
Sometimes a general familiarity persists, but on some tracks the source material becomes alarmingly apparent. ‘Virgilian Lots’ has a nagging familiarity, a certain, unmistakable Brummie aura. It soon becomes clear that the song owes plenty to ‘Mr. Blue Sky’, a similarity tough to unhear when the instrumentation, effects and vocal style are all screaming “ELO!” at the listener.
Other tracks try the patience of the listener before they begin, with titles including ‘Apollyon of Blue Room’, ‘Empyrean Abattoir’ and ‘Chthonian Dirge for Uruk the Other’. These are in fact deeply personal songs, telling troubling stories about unhappy relationships and times that turned sour. The latter track suffers a heavy meltdown halfway through, hinting at deeper levels of psychedelic exploration that never really materialise. of Montreal know their music, they can write nagging tunes and they can certainly create an atmosphere, but it is not at all clear that their chosen songwriting style allows them to say anything different, or to tell us why we should be listening.