Even a band that you'll never find on the radio can have plenty of "singles and songles" lying around the place. "Horse & Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed): The Singles & Songles Album" collects Of Montreal's assorted songles into one album, which has no cohesion, but it's enchanting anyway.
"It's strange how when we were young/ I was so mean to you/I didn't know the connection we had till we go older," Kevin Barnes croons in the opening song, an ode of brotherly love. And after that -- except for a few offbeat songs like the robust "Problem With April" -- the collection takes off into outer space, with songs about flaming swans, ghostly faces and stalker librarians.
Of Montreal runs the full gamut here, from enchanting love songs ("Spoonful of Sugar") to spoken stories about baby spiders, pudding and reincarnation. Barnes and Co. introduce us to Nicki Lighthouse (a psychedelic Pippi Longstocking), laments lost love, and plans a funeral. And, of course, it has some feel-good assurances: "You worry 'bout the sun/What's the use of worrying 'bout the big old sun?/You worry 'bout the rain/The rain keeps falling just the same..."
Of Montreal is best known for creating enchanting theme albums -- albums all about love, about magical dreamlike stories, or about the life of a love affair. "Horse & Elephant Eatery (No Elephants Allowed)" is the exception. Since it's entirely made out of songles, there's no flow from each song to the next. But strangely, it almost feels as if it did have.
Swirly guitar-and-tambourine pop is at the core of it, along with the required odd chords and strange sound effects. There is folk, pop, a tint of rock, and "The Problem with April" sounds like a drunken marching band doing a musical number. It fits the songwriting -- big-hearted, optimistic, loving and strange.
The general mood is one of love -- between lovers, brothers, and friends. The only exceptions are songs like "Julie the Mouse," where Barnes sings over a sparkling melody: "It's such a strange need to be deprived of/To just want love and feel happy." But that's an unusual song. More often, it's the upbeat "The You I Created" (the only one where a woman sings) or the surprisingly cheerful "Scenes From My Funeral." ("And just before whoever gives the command/to send my body down/I'll jump out of the box and tap dance/from head to bald head."
Somehow it's reassuring to hear Barnes sing, "What started with the Gay Parade/Will continue till the end of our days." If their future albums are anything like their singles'n'songles collection, then that is an excellent thing.