Of Montreal's a band for whom reinvention is a constant, and over its lifespan the Athens group has moved through throwback pop, electro jams and wildly dense funk. And while frontman and songwriter Kevin Barnes has always been the band's pilot, his brother David, a painter, illustrator, and Of Montreal's artistic director, has crafted the band's idiosyncratic visual identity both on stage and through album artwork.
The new book What's Weird? collects a decade's worth of David's work, and includes drawings, sketches, commissioned work and paintings relating to his distinctive album artwork for Of Montreal. David spent two years going through notebooks and artwork to select content for What's Weird?, which also features a foreword by Kevin, captions and commentary from David.
"I wanted to make a book because I'm one of those people that has more ideas than they finish," says David. "I wanted a book that was so filled with images that you could look at it for five minutes or a year, and just randomly open it and see something different at any point."
The first collaboration between the brothers came when Kevin decided to use one of his younger brother's drawings as cover artwork for 1997's The Bird Who Continues to Eat the Rabbit's Flower EP. Clean lines and bright colors lend childlike whimsy to earlier albums such as The Gay Parade, while David's recent work has become increasingly complex, grotesque and indulgent. Cover artwork for the new EP Controller Sphere, for instance, conjures fleshy thoughts of Bosch, Goya or Dalí rendered with confident lines and colors.
David says that while his work has evolved, his artistic quirks have remained the same since childhood. "In searching for stuff [to put in the book]," he says, "my parents sent me a couple boxes of stuff from when I was really little. I didn't put any of that into the book, but I thought it was pretty interesting that there's little things that never went away, little things I used to do that I still do now. Tiny little characters hidden in things. A lot of times if I'm drawing a person and I mess up the knee, for instance, and it kind of looks like a nose, then I'll just say, 'Fuck it, I'll make the whole thing a face.' I've done that since I was little."
As Of Montreal's artistic director, David has been a driving force behind the band's kaleidoscopic collision of art and music. What's Weird? offers a rich, sometimes overwhelming glimpse into David's inventive mind, and what he hopes will be "a slight distraction from life. Or reality." Just like the band.
What's Weird? by David Barnes. Polyvinyl Record Co. $50. 128 pp.
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