Extended play albums are, at best, misnomers, and at worst, complete rip-offs. EPs have a tendency of being overpriced for what they are, charging two-thirds the full price of a full-length album for only a third of the content. Most of the time, they hardly seem to be worth the money. It’s likely that prolific songwriter Kevin Barnes doesn’t share my opinion of EPs. The frontman of indie pop band Of Montreal has regularly put out EPs in between the release of full-length albums. The latest EP is Icons, Abstract Thee, a five-song companion album to the early 2007 full-length Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
What can be said about Of Montreal that hasn’t been said already? 2007 has been a very good year for the band. Hissing Fauna was well-received by critics, and gained them no small amount of attention from mainstream media. For independent artists, having your song – albeit retooled (or “butchered”, if you prefer) – featured in the background of an Outback Steakhouse commercial could be considered as a measure of commercial success. The recognition is well-deserved. With Hissing Fauna, Barnes has created a record full of impossibly upbeat, melodic harmonies juxtaposed with darkly lyrical laments of his inner demons. As its companion piece, Icons continues the tradition established by the full-length.
“Companion album” is essentially a marketing-savvy way of referring to the material that weren’t good enough to make the cut to the album. Icons contains ostensibly rare tracks, songs that previously made their appearance only on the vinyl edition of Hissing Fauna, or on the band’s MySpace page. It is a testament to Barnes’s abilities that Icons shines brilliantly, despite being composed of songs that weren’t good enough for the actual album.
Icons is its own mini-album, a mostly bouncy throwback to the pop music of the ‘60s and ‘70s. It starts with the addictively flourishing “Du Og Meg” and steadily continues an emotionally downward spiral until “Miss Blonde Your Papa Is Falling”, an aching, somber acoustic track. It all concludes with “No Conclusion”, in which Barnes repeatedly sings “Tonight I feel like I should just destroy myself” against deceptively upbeat melodies.
It is unfair that Icons should be categorized as a companion piece when it is perfectly capable of standing as its own independent release. In twenty minutes, Barnes has created a complete musical journey that elude a great deal of artists in their entire careers. And for that, I will have to reluctantly concede that I was wrong concerning the validity of EPs. Icons, Abstract Three is worth every overcharged penny.