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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Various Artists: "Aluminum Plums: A 10th Anniversary Tribute to Of Montreal"

It was pretty much destined for mediocrity to begin with. A post on June 18th, 2008 on the Of Montreal Fan Site, The Booty Patrol, invited any and everyone to cover an Of Montreal song to celebrate the band's 10th Anniversary. This isn't exactly stereogum's O.K. Computer tribute we're talking about here. No, what Aluminum Plums is is just a fun way for fans of the band to pay tribute to Of Montreal by trying their best to recreate songs from the band's expansive collection. The end result is expectedly amateur (with sparks of genius and talent here and there) and will probably only appeal to those who were involved in the process. Huge Of Montreal fans, like myself will most likely find very little to enjoy about Aluminum Plums.

I suppose that the largest problem with Aluminum Plums is the fact that it's not to be taken as a serious recreation or reimagination of Of Montreal's music, but just a casual love note to the band from their fans. Any expectations of greatness should be immediately thrown out of the window, because the album features only a few artists that I've actually heard of before and a large part of Aluminum Plums is performed by people who have no business making music. Jeff Maksym's abysmal cover of "Dustin Hoffman Offers Lame Explanation for Missing Bathtub" turns the already somewhat unimpressive song into an unimaginable mess of distorted guitars, vocals, and drums. I would be lying if I said that any moment of this song was worth listening to, and I can't even tell that I'm listening to an Of Montreal song, even when I have the title right in front of me. A Candlelight Vigil's version of "She's A Rejector" is a little better, as it actually sounds like...well...music, but the vocalist sounds like he's trying too hard to sound like Kevin Barnes. The music itself is a straight-up cover of the Hissing Fauna... song too, with barely anything to suggest that the band actually tried to put their own mark on the song aside from some frantic guitar soloing towards the end. It just ends up sounding like a bad Of Montreal cover, which it is.

But the badness doesn't really stop there. Aisle Six's cover of "Vegan in Furs" is "sung" by a person who really doesn't need to even own a microphone, much less sing into it. "Alvin and the Chipmunks" make an appearance on the song's coda, which is to say that his terrible vocals are pitch-shifted to sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks when in fact it's just a really awful vocalist trying to disguise the fact that he's terrible. Even Elekibass, who I adore, can't really pick things up, as their cover of "Springtime is the Season" is less than charming. I do, however, give them props for trying to put their own unique Elekibass-stylings on the simple, synth-driven sing-a-long.

Finally, we get a decent cover eight songs in with Sorry Stories' cover of "Autobiographical Grandpa," which is not only faithfully covered but well-recorded. The vocalist isn't the greatest, but he sings better than anyone else on the album thus far. And what the hell is up with Lesbian Afternoon's "Disconnect the Dots," which is in no way a cover of the opener to Satanic Panic in the Attic? I'm pretty sure renaming your original music to "Disconnect the Dots" and replacing your chorus with the song's lyrics doesn't count as a tribute, but as exploitation. Let's hope no one notices. The next song is Alex Madore's cover of one of my favorite Of Montreal songs, "Jennifer Louise." And while he may totally kill the energy and happiness of the original, his slow, mildly depressing version is still pretty decent. It's well sung and well performed, so even though he changed the feel of the song, you can't complain too much, especially when it's surrounded by such nonsense.

And this leads me to the most gut-wrenching cover of them all, Emily Pike's "City Bird." It's not that she can't sing, or that the music is bad. Neither of those statements are true. The problem with the song is that Emily takes Kevin's soft, reflective ballad and turns into a Kelly Clarkson power ballad without changing the backing music. So what we end up with is a copy of the original song, but instead of Kevin crooning softly, we get a wannabe American Idol belting out "City bird, haven't you heard? Hasn't anybody told you?" at the top of her lungs. Way to miss the point.

The Terrified Terrifics' "Du Og Meg" does a pretty decent job of capturing the charm of the original without resorting to a flat out copy of the song. I suppose the best way to describe it is "cute," which is something the original was far from. The next song, "Kevin, I Wish You Were Born In Brazil" is a hilarious reimagining of "Tim, I Wish You Were Born a Girl" with the singer wishing that he and Kevin could play Sega Genesis and other far-fetched, yet humorous activities. Indie Blockedappella do an amazing job of recreating "Will You Come and Fetch Me" in full-on a capella. If you needed a reason to download Aluminum Plums, this is probably the best reason to do so.

J&H's bedroom rendition of "Requiem for O.M.M. 2" is enjoyable in that it's just so lame that it's good. The only thing I can think of when listening to it is a bunch of kids gathered around an acoustic guitar and recording the whole thing in one take. It's not good, but it is amusing. Dena Zilber's cover of "Good Morning, Mr. Edmonton" goes for the same effect, but fails miserably. Skip it. In fact, just go ahead and skip the next 4 tracks too, right to Low Digital's cover of "Suffer for Fashion." It's far from the best track on the album, but considering the garbage that it follows, it stands out as something at leas halfway decent. There is good synth work here, which almost makes up for the horrible vocals that flood the song. "Suffer for Fashion" is such a vocally-driven song, but the band seemed to forget that when recording this version. Prash's "Chrissy Kiss the Corpse" is another one of those "so bad it's amusing" songs, sounding a lot like Atom and his Package, but without talent.

And finally, at song 25, Aluminum Plums comes to a close with Casper & The Cookies' version of "Penelope," which is undoubtedly the best cover on the album, and one of just a few that deserve to exist. Of course, this isn't such a surprise, as Casper & The Cookies are actually an established band. They do an amazing job with this song, utilizing every trick at their disposal to make the song sound great! The traverse a bunch of music genres in the process, including electro funk, marching band arrangements, a capella, punk, and even a crazy, but awesome bluegrass hoe-down. Musically, it's a much better song than the original, though I still have a soft spot for Of Montreal's version.

Aluminum Plums is free, so you should download it if you're a fan of Of Montreal. Just be prepared to delete 20 of the 25 songs found on this collection. The biggest problem with Aluminum Plums is the lack of decent quality control. If these are the ones that made it, I can't even imagine what the rejects sounded like (assuming there were any). But then again, the point of the album is not to wow us (and I'm sure it was never meant for a serious review), but to be a fun project for fans. I sure hope they had a better time making it than I had listening to it, because Aluminum Plums is about as enjoyable as eating an aluminum plum would be. See what I did there? Oh, I'm such a clever guy!

Key Tracks:
1. Sorry Stories - "Autobiographical Grandpa"
2. Alex Madore - "Jennifer Louise"
3. Terrified Terrifics - "Du Og Meg"
4. Indie Blockedapella - "Will You Come and Fetch Me"
5. Casper & the Cookies - "Penelope"

61 comments:

Anonymous said...

... and you call yourself an of montreal fan. please.

Dave Kent said...

Why would you go out of your way to be so thoroughly rude about a collection of songs that was obviously intended to be little more than a fun personal project for those that contributed to it?

What is this review for? Are you helping to keep someone from wasting their money on this album? Well, no, you probably aren't. It's not for sale. Are you evaluating an object of art? Well, no, you probably aren't. It's all covers. What, then?

And I hope you don't have any illusions that your cover is any better than any random track off of this tribute.

Becky said...

i feel very sorry that you have spent so much money on of montreal releases and still fail to understand what elephant 6 is all about.

Cale said...

Hey folks, from the Elephant 6 message boards.

Let me go ahead and humbly say that it was not my intention to belittle anyone with my review or anything. Hey, music is music, and what I like may not appeal to others and vice versa. That's the beauty of it all.

Honestly, I can understand why this is such an issue for a lot of you. I mean, you put time into creating something to give back or pay tribute to Of Montreal. That's cool, and if I had known that this was going on in the summer, I would've submitted my own cover.

It's not about how I feel about it or how others feel about it. It's about how YOU feel about it, and it's about how YOU felt when you were making it. This was never meant to be an collection of songs to be scrutinized or blasted by some stupid blogger, like myself. It was meant to be a fun project for those who were willing to take it on.

And if you had fun making it, or listening to it, then what difference does my opinion make? It shouldn't make any difference (and consequently, it doesn't). I understand and respect the whole communal aspect of music that E6 promotes, and I respect it and am grateful for it. So many talented artists have come from that collective.

I've faced a bunch of negative responses to my reviews before, and I'm used to it. I just wanted to set the record straight here and let all of you know that you shouldn't take my opinion seriously at all. Most people don't, myself included.

And like I said, I wouldn't even have reviewed it had there been anything else worth reviewing that week. I really hope that all of you who were involved in the making of "Aluminum Plums" enjoyed yourselves. I am upset that I can't share in the fun, but for what it's worth, I wish I could have.

I'll leave it at that. Thanks for visiting the site. (Of Montreal is nominated for several "Cale Awards" and is currently being manhandled by Radiohead. Do the right thing, click on the link at the top of the page and set the record straight.

Dave Kent said...

The first thing I would like to do is suggest that you go back and read your review. After doing that, try again to say that it is not rude, spiteful and belittling. Whether or not is an honest or accurate review does not matter. What makes it rude, spiteful and belittling is that this album isn't an appropriate subject for a critical review in the first place; it's a personal tribute put together by a group of friends.

Certainly, you have the right to post the review. I'm not trying to argue that point. If I find a signed manuscript sitting on a bench in a park, it is well within my rights to read it, decide that it is terribly written, and submit a review to the newspaper lambasting it. It would, however, be rude, and I wouldn't do it. (No matter how desperately I wanted to be a book critic.) If I see a woman wearing an ugly dress, it is within my rights to put my megaphone to my lips, point at her and shout "HEY, THAT DRESS IS UGLY!" Because it would be so rude, I wouldn't do it. (No matter how desperately I wanted to be a fashion critic.)

A point of clarification - I had nothing to do with this album, and I only occasionally post on the E6 Townhall. I just think it's terrible that you don't understand why it's rude to publish a (very harsh) review of something like this.

Curmudgeon said...

Oh please. If you want to review it, go ahead. If you don't like it, say so. It's the internet, if people don't like it they shouldn't read it. I thought your review very entertaining. But have some balls, don't apologise and stand up for your opinion rather than saying people shouldn't take you seriously.

Cale said...

No, I stand by my review and my opinion. It's mine, and I chose to share it with people.

I'm not apologizing for that. Certainly my point was not to offend, just to give an opinion...and I do feel upset that people took it too seriously.

It's my opinion that you shouldn't take anyone's opinion too serioiusly. What matters is how you feel about something, not what others think. So that's what I meant when I said "don't take me seriously." When adding, "I don't," I was basically just confirming that I don't view myself as a mighty journalist whose opinions are superior. I'm just a blogger and the subtitle of this blog, "Music Snobbery at its Most Mediocre", should prove that I don't view myself as anything more.

Sorry for any misunderstanding....wait, I'm not. F*** you.

How's that for balls?

Curmudgeon said...

That's a little better ;) But here's the thing: if the people that recorded the songs stumble across your review of course they're going to be offended. You should have known that (and I suspect you did).

I have no involvement with this album at all and I think you have the right to say what you like which nobody should take away from you. But you should just say "if you don't like my opinion then tough, it's my opinion". You put something out on the internet and some people will disagree with you and some of those will disagree with you really strongly. Don't let it stop you!

9heads said...

"And like I said, I wouldn't even have reviewed it had there been anything else worth reviewing that week."

So even though it was just a crappy little tribute, every other real album released that week sucked worse? I think I'll download this then since it's free

Anonymous said...

Hm. I'm not sure where to start. I guess when a medium such as the internet liberates creativity, it is inevitable that people such as the reviewer in question have more material to be malicious towards. I think it was in bad judgment that the reviewer chose to review this compilation because a lot of people put themselves in very vulnerable positions when they submit things like this out of sheer love for the band. I don't understand how one would think it would be a good idea to review something like this, especially someone who claims to be a fan. I think what the reviewer does not understand is that it is really really easy to criticize things and be destructive. I'm a HUGE fan of of Montreal, but if I sat down with the intentions to criticize one of their albums, I'm sure I could write up something that people such as the reviewer would eat up.

My point is that it is obvious by just reading the first few lines of your review that you had preexisting notions of what this CD was going to be like, and you wrote this review with maliciousness in mind. I know you've got a pride thing going for you and you will not accept any criticism of your writing (a bit ironic), but I at least hope I reached the person in there, beyond the tough persona you try to paint.

All the covers were adorable, and one did not have to be involved in the process to feel that way. All one needed was to be in a relatively loving mood, and I hope you can someday achieve that state of mind. Best of luck. Reply bitterly if you please; it is only your conscience that suffers.

Cale said...

"My point is that it is obvious by just reading the first few lines of your review that you had preexisting notions of what this CD was going to be like"

Not true. I hadn't even heard about the CD until it was released. I downloaded it excitedly. It wasn't until after I listened to it that I was disappointed.

"and you wrote this review with maliciousness in mind"

I wrote the review with honesty in mind, mostly. There was a hint of malice, mostly because of my extreme disappointment with what I was hearing.

"I know you've got a pride thing going for you and you will not accept any criticism of your writing "

At the bottom of the blog, you'll find the "About" section, where it clearly states: "We appreciate all feedback." I like to know what people think, especially when it's bad. It not only improves my writing, but it's much more entertaining.

"I at least hope I reached the person in there, beyond the tough persona you try to paint."

Ha! I don't think I've ever painted myself as a tough guy. A nerd, maybe, but not a tough guy. I suppose my saying "Let me go ahead and humbly say that it was not my intention to belittle anyone with my review or anything," means I'm a tough guy? Sorry I'm not following.

And just to defend my review one last time, you're judging the album adorableness and lovingness. That's great and all. I try to review things based on the talent of the artist, the quality of the recordings, the orginality or things, etc. There are, after all, multiple things to take into account when you review something. For me, the artist's feelings aren't one of them.

I'm going to go ahead and say thanks for sharing your opinion and everything, but it's not going to change a thing. When people put their music online, it will come under scrutiny whether they like it or not. When it's as publicized as this project was, you have to anticipate someone like myself blogging about it. But it's just an opinion, and not a definitive evaluation.

And if you folks would like to take my own personal music and destroy it amongst yourselves, please follow these links and then trash it. You're fully entitled to.

www.myspace.com/10884204
www.myspace.com/softlightmasquerade

And with that, I leave this "discussion." Feel free to leave your comments, but I will no longer respond to them.

Have a great day!

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