The groups that comprise the Elephant 6 Collective have spent their careers being the most useless bands in music. Even calling them “bands” is misleading since they don’t truly create music as much as they cobble together “critic approved” sounds focus grouped for 10 out of 10 Pitchfork grades. They harp on and on about their love of The Beach Boys almost as if to convince you that they’re the modern heirs to Pet Sounds or something. They forget that the keys to Pet Sounds‘ success was that it was the opposite of a hip record: it presented its angst as teen drama kitsch and transformed the psychedelic sounds of the underground into uncool lounge music for California bachelors, two things no Elephant 6 group would ever do.
My main experience with Of Montreal before this record was their debut, a record that was so tossed off it seemed like a joke, while simultaneously taking itself so seriously it couldn’t be appreciated as goofy fun. Like In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, its only purpose was the serve as background Muzak for an alcohol free college party hosted by a bearded faux-meek jerk who claims Exile in Guyville “totally changed his views on relationships, man”.
Thankfully, none of these things apply to their newest record Innocence Reaches which replaces the sounds of yesteryear with the modern sounds of EDM and Top 40 pop. This may seem a shocking turn of events for a band that once rubbed elbows with the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel but this musical shift not only fits the band comfortably, it also turns their faults into new strengths.
On their previous records Of Montreal never sat contently within the styles they set out to emulate, the vocals were too deadpan and ironic to lend any amount of joy to their psych-pop records, and their take on Prince-esque ’80s dance wasn’t garishly tasteless enough to truly encapsulate what made that music great.
By surrounding themselves with colorful electronic textures and the occasional trap snare they allow Kevin Barnes vocals to finally have a home since his disembodied delivery fits in perfectly with the artificial background behind him. Like Future before him, the content of his lyrics no longer matters since the robotic tone of his voice blends in with the production behind him, contributing to a wall of digital sound that provides a more visceral rush than anything they produced before.
The opening two songs are the strongest on the record, “Let’s Relate” is a shockingly modern dance floor anthem, while “It’s Different for Girls” portrays their style shift in a cooler, cockier context. Following the openers none of the songs truly sink in, but they don’t have to, like the best EDM what matters is the “feel” of the music, and what it implies through its colors and rhythms.
Of course, they wouldn’t be a modern underground band if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot a few times, and these bullet wounds come in the form of a few hookless garage rock tracks scattered across the record. Tracks like “Gratuitous Abysses” and “Les Chants de Maldoro” strive for a sense of raw immediacy that completely fails to have any impact due to the largely canned instrumentation and a total lack of vocal energy, holding this record back from becoming a truly great one.
Despite this flaw (as well as a slowing of the pace in the later tracks) the record still comes across like a joyous party, the kind of leap into relevancy most modern rock bands seem incapable of doing While Innocence Reaches may not send them crashing into the Hot 100, it still presents an intriguing new direction for indie music as a whole.