Genius on the Edge

I worry about of Montreal’s musical motor, pop genius Kevin Barnes. He first got records out in 1997-98, when he was an elegantly naivistic singer of sad love songs. Then he shot like a lysergic rocket straight into Pepperland with four beatlesque albums in 1999-2004. On his 2005 album he suddenly said goodbye to his old band members, returned to confessional mode and sang the praises of married life and parenthood in Norway of all places. And two other new themes appeared: 80s-style electronica and deep depression. That’s where he still is.

With his recent album, Skeletal Lamping, Barnes has turned into a open-heartedly suicidal incarnation of early Prince. Yes he is extremely lewd, yes he is psychedelic, yes he has a plastic synth sound, and dammit I’m afraid the man’s gonna kill himself. I mean, look at this:

“… the hope of another wet nightmare is all we have to live for …”

“Why am I so damaged girl
Why am I such poisoned goods
I don’t know how long I can hold on
If it’s gonna be like this forever

Why am I so damaged
Why am I so troubled girl
I don’t know how long I can hold on
If it’s gonna be like this forever”

“Don’t be afraid lille ven of violence
I’m only poisoning you, not gonna stab you.
Don’t be afraid lille ven of my troubled mind
I’m just poisoning you a little
With my gloom”

There’s some early Bowie and late Lennon in the mix too, and everything’s overlaid with Barnes’s inimitable multitracked vocal harmony. The sunny Brian Wilson influences and Pepperisms are no more. And there’s no getting around it: we’re dealing with a severely depressed musician who somehow manages to release one brilliant album a year and go on tour regularly.

Barnes and his new (-ish) band are playing in Stockholm on Monday, and I’ll be there. He has recorded his latest few albums alone at home, producing reams of highly intricate studio pop. I look forward to hearing live versions of the songs! And I really hope it won’t turn out to be Last Chance To See.

Check out Rolling Stone’s recent interview with Kevin Barnes.

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Comments

  1. #1 DianaGainer
    October 17, 2008

    Please don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe your musician needs more sunshine. Now you’ve got ME worrying about him. People who don’t get enough sunshine often get what’s called in the States “Affective Mood Disorder.” It’s sometimes treated by putting them under or in front of ultraviolet lamps for several hours a day, if they can’t stand to be out in real sunlight, or live where they don’t get sunlight. It’s a real disorder that often causes depression in Alaska. If you have a chance, mention it to this fellow. I used to be a nurse, that’s how I came to know about it.

  2. #2 Pär
    October 17, 2008

    You sure his lyrics aren’t just narratives from the perspective of a fictional protagonist, i.e. made up, the way The Mountain Goats write their (his) brilliant songs?

    I’m worried Nick Cave might go out and kill someone one of these days.

  3. #3 Martin R
    October 18, 2008

    Diana, Seasonal Affective Disorder is very common in Sweden too. I have mild symptoms of it myself in the late autumns.

    Pär, the guy talks about depression and his erratic medication regimen in interviews. These interviews could of course be given “in character”, but the sum of the evidence suggests to me that the guy isn’t well at all.

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