Of Montreal's adventurous avant-pop has been the aural equivalent of a kaleidoscope, forming new musical colors and patterns with each successive album and EP since Kevin Barnes founded his flamboyant musical experiment in 1996.
Apparently, heartbreak was the original inspiration for this band, named for a woman from Montreal who had broken Barnes' heart, which bled through the deceptively bright Beatles-meets-Beach Boys melodies and arrangements of the 1997 debut album “Cherry Peel.”
Other dark states of mind have informed of Montreal's ever-changing music, especially in recent years with the depression-shadowed “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” (2007), the domestic turmoil-haunted “Skeletal Lamping” (2008), and this year's melodically rich art-pop epic “Paralytic Stalks,” which is lyrically one of Barnes' darkest, most personal confessionals, fraught with self-loathing, frustration and confusion.
And there's more where all of that came from on the newly released “Daughter of Cloud,” which compiles 17 of Montreal recordings ranging from the “Hissing Fauna” period to the present, including 10 previously unreleased songs and seven that were originally issued on rare, out-of-print or limited edition CDs or seven-inches. The selections represent the whole spectrum of styles that have shaded the band's eccentric music, from Beatles and avant-garde classical to '70s prog-rock and dashes of Curtis Mayfield/Stevie Wonder-inspired funk.
For a man who never puts out the same music twice and doesn't like to revisit his own old material, releasing a rarities album seems a bit out of character.
“Well it's basically sort of like an emptying of the vaults,” Barnes said from his home in Athens, Ga. “It's like, I had all these songs. I wanted to release tracks two through seven, two through six maybe, I can't remember. But I wanted to release those as a separate EP that would have come out actually before ‘Paralytic Stalks,' our last full-length record, because those were songs that were from the ‘False Priest' era and that was like a really prolific period for me.
“So we put out ‘False Priest' and then we put out ‘TheControllersphere' EP which is songs from that time period, and I wanted to put out another EP ... Polyvinyl basically said, you know, rather than put out another EP why don't you put out all these other songs, just group 'em all together and do more like a full-length outtakes compilation or whatever. So I decided to do that just because actually I realized that the time had passed for those songs to come out as anything new, so I might as well just group them all together and release them like that.”
But Barnes insisted that rather than arranging the songs chronologically, they should be sequenced on “Daughter of Cloud” to give the listener the same feeling they would get from hearing a new album.
“I figured it'd be cool to start with the oldest track (“Our Love is Senile”), and then from there just kind of semi-randomly just picking songs, ‘OK this goes here, this goes here.' There was some thought put into maintaining some kind of flow and in that sense, yeah.”
Barnes is planning to revisit some past music cinematically as well, having just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to finish a feature-length documentary about the band.
“Yeah, it's come together in a sort of awkward way,” he said. “Initially we were thinking that we would document this one concert or two concerts that we're doin' in L.A., and we had this cool stage that we had built ourselves, and had this catwalk and steps that would light when I stepped on them. We just thought it was a cool production and we wanted to document it, so we hired a crew to do that.
“I don't know why, we just never released it. We documented one of our other shows from the ‘Skeletal Lamping' era and then never released that, and then kind of realized we had all this awesome footage, so we could put it all together and then if we could get some archival stuff together and actually tell the story of the band, it's sort of the way it's evolved.
“It reached this point where we had invested so much money documenting these shows and doing interviews and all this stuff and pre-tour preparations and interviewing all the people that are involved in the of Montreal family and all that, and sort of realized like, whoa, there's no more money, there's no more budget to do anything.
“But it's nowhere near done, so basically if we wanna release it we're gonna have to do something like the Kickstarter concept just to get it finished, 'cause at this point we're so deep in the hole we'll never make our money back, but at the same time we've invested so much energy into it, it's crazy to not release it.”
Titled “Song Dynasties” and directed by filmmaker Jason Miller, the film will incorporate some of the earliest hand-held camcorder footage of the band (“when we were driving around in the van and sleeping on people's floors”) with more recent filmed concerts and behind-the-scenes segments.
Rewards for contributing to the film include an exclusive album, a deluxe hand-numbered DVD, props from classic of Montreal videos, the opportunity to be dressed in costume and dance with the band onstage, and the chance to watch a screening of “Song Dynasties” with the band.
Meanwhile, the band has begun a new leg of its 2012 tour, which will bring them to the Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma Performance Lab in Bricktown on Thursday, where fans will be treated to some of Montreal music they've never heard before.
But don't expect to see Barnes entering the venue on horseback or playing in the nude, a couple of antics he's been known to pull in the past.
“Not horseback, but we do have a totally new production for this tour and it should be really interesting and I'm excited just 'cause we're doin' all these new songs. So it feels like it's not like ‘Groundhog Day' or something. We're definitely trying new things. There'll probably be a couple new songs and some ‘Daughter of Cloud,' songs that we've never performed live before. So yeah, it's gonna be a mixture of that and, of course, the classics.”