Psych album of the week: Of Montreal’s Satanic Panic in the Attic (2004)

Even if it wasn’t written or recorded under the influence of anything stronger than herbal tea, the LP is a psychedelic masterpiece

Of-Montreal-Satanic-Panic

Satanic Panic in the Attic by Of Montreal

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The English band Spacemen 3 once released an album called Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, which is an amusing title and probably pretty accurate as far as Spacemen 3 was concerned. Of course, you don’t have to take any drugs to enjoy music; music is arguably its own kind of mind-altering substance. For those so inclined, however, we offer the following as a must-hear.

You might expect to hear tales of unapologetically prodigious consumption of hallucinogens from a man whose extensive catalogue of songs includes ones with such titles as “Lysergic Bliss”, “Raindrop in My Skull”, and, um, “Inside a Room Full of Treasures, a Black Pygmy Horse’s Head Pops Up Like a Periscope”.

Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, however, has always stuck to the story that his musical output has everything to do with his innate creativity and not psychoactive substances. We have no reason to doubt the guy—even if he became notorious in the mid-2000s for stripping down during live performances and showing unsuspecting concertgoers the exact length and breadth of his creative spirit.

Even if it wasn’t written or recorded under the influence of anything stronger than herbal tea, Satanic Panic in the Attic is a psychedelic masterpiece. After its lo-fi beginnings as part of Athens, Georgia’s fabled Elephant 6 collective, and having taken the concept album to twee new heights with 2001’s Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse, Barnes could have taken Of Montreal in any conceivable direction.

What he chose to do, however, was drive his musical vehicle in multiple directions all at once. Satanic Panic kicks off with “Disconnect the Dots”, which is equal parts glam rock, new wave, and indie pop. Its mind-melting keyboard tones are in near-perfect balance with its earworm vocal melodies.

In spite of its title, the aforementioned “Lysergic Bliss” isn’t really about LSD, per se. It’s a love song, with Barnes comparing the feeling of falling for his beloved to the warm glow of a particularly good acid trip. “And I’m dizzy from her kiss,” he coos. “So vertiginous, lost in lysergic bliss.”

The drugs-as-metaphor theme continues on “Spike the Senses”, which finds Barnes searching for something, anything, that will keep his anxieties at bay. (It’s sort of like “I Want a New Drug”, but with less saxophone.) “Try to find a way to spike the senses,” he sings, “till everything goes white.”

And what psych-rock record would be complete without a character study of some aberrant character and his or her strange hobbies? “Chrissy Kiss the Corpse” is Satanic Panic’s one-upped answer to “Arnold Layne”; egged on by her friends, young Chrissy gets her kicks by messing around with the bodies of the recently deceased.

If that’s too far-out for you, skip it and listen to “City Bird” instead. Singing words penned by fellow Elephant 6er Dan Donahue, Barnes ponders the limits of free will through the contemplation of urban wildlife.

Standout tracks

“Disconnect the Dots”, “My British Tour Diary”, “Eros’ Entropic Tundra”

Sonic psych-out

About two-and-a-half-minutes into “Lysergic Bliss”, the song comes to a sudden halt. After a whispered count-in, Barnes uses the magic of multi-tracked vocals to deliver a “ba-da-ba” refrain that hits the sweet spot between a church choir and the sound Brian Wilson hears in his dreams.

Trippiest lyrics

“It’s so beautiful/Our lunacy/It’s so beautiful.” (“Disconnect the Dots”)

“The octopus in your purse/Is cursing like an evil sailor/But remember, the knife is worse/For the editors of movie trailers.” (“Erroneous Escape Into Eric Eckles”)

“Chrissy’s such a pretty thing/Gentle as a scorpion sting/No one ever would suspect/That her mind’s completely wrecked.” (“Chrissy Kiss the Corpse”)

In their own words

“Nah, for me, I’m pretty sober, I guess. I think about how certain things can help me. I’m not really into numbing myself, you know. If there’s something I could take that would help me be more productive and produce good things, then I would take it. But I’m not really into recreational activities in general. I’m just very focused on being productive. I don’t want to sit in front of a television and numb my brain and have these lost hours, you know, that amounted to nothing.” (Kevin Barnes, when asked if he writes songs under the influence of drugs)

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