Of Montreal is one of those bands that's impossible to ignore. Their albums just scream so much color that their charm is easy to be seen even by the most apprehensive listener. I can understand completely how someone can hear one of their albums and be turned off, but at the same time I think something is completely wrong with you if you are turned off by their music. It's that much fun.
Their debut album, Cherry Peel, isn't in the same league as some of their other music. Kevin Barnes knows what's been done in music before and is constantly trying to evolve their sound to not just explore new directions in the genre but to also entertain the listener in ways they usually aren't. Most music can get boring fairly quickly, regardless if it's pop music or even indie music. It can get repetitive and boring fast. Barnes is aware of this limitation and doesn't want to fall prone to it. Most of his songs never sound the same and are so colorful that one hears something different with each listen. Their first album works more as a sign of things to come, but that doesn't mean it isn't catchy in its own regard.
The main thing that the album lacks is the wall of sound that they would later do so well. The band practically craves to have overproduction done to them, to have even more instruments and sounds coming out all the time to further compliment the music, and yet this album is fairly lo-fi. The songs are still plenty fun. Opener "Everything Disappears When You Come Around" is classic Of Montreal, complete in its lovelorn lost and colorful tone. Both it and the following track, "Baby," showcase what the band does best, writing indie pop songs that are also poetic.
All of the songs have a quality to them that sets them apart from the others. "I Can't Stop Your Memory" stutters in a nice way and has a great middle section. "Don't Ask Me To Explain" hints at things to come, what Kevin is trying to achieve. The distorted acoustic and great vocals deliver well (reckoning a good-era Weezer perhaps?). The highlight of all these tracks is "Tim I Wish You Were Born A Girl." The song isn't creepy but genuine and beautiful, one of the most creative love songs in some time. All of the instruments enter and leave the song like a stage show, gradually adding to the song and resulting in the best track on the album.
But of course the whole album doesn't hold up. I can't gush the whole time when there are a few clunkers. "In Dreams I Dance With You" suffers from the lo-fi sound. The song is begging to have more production added to it, the lo-fi-ness taking away from its quality. A lot of the songs, while good in nature, just don't remain memorable after one listen. That's not to say that there isn't anything to be gained from multiple listens to the album, but in comparison to what's to come they simply remain okay songs in the long run.
Cherry Peel is a great debut to a great band. It hints at what's to come and it's a good thing that Of Montreal changed their style up in the next few albums. There is a sound here that is working really well, but it can't seem to find its voice yet and the right production to handle it. But even what is here is still very good and is interesting to see where the band had its origins.
Standout Track: "Tim I Wish You Were Born A Girl."
Overall Rating: 8.0
* The band's name changes in interviews with lead singer Kevin Barnes, but it mainly comes from a failed relationship he had with a woman from Montreal.
* The band's sound can be heard evolving on this album. Most of the songs deal with personal issues and loves lost, but on later releases Of Montreal would involve more in-song dialogue and characters.
* One of the rare Of Montreal albums with cover art NOT done by Kevin's brother, David. Possibly done by photographer Tim Root with the help of David Barnes.
* Bar/None records are also known for some other obscure bands, such as releases by They Might Be Giants, Yo La Tengo, Puffy AmiYumi and Orange Juice's Edwyn Collins.