Of Montreal lead singer Kevin Barnes regularly bares his soul and more in Of Montreal live shows, turning the stages of America into his own bizarro-world performance art theater. He’s interested in identity and the mutation thereof, cross-dressing and taking on the persona of mythical creatures and characters. At Coachella a few years ago I saw him climb a ladder and drape a wizard’s robe over it, looking like an over-makeupped Gandalf. On his band’s current tour, in support of the ambitious 2012 LP Paralytic Stalks, the veteran oddball ADDcore band from Athens, Ga. has put the focus on tripping fans out, with an elaborate video production involving multiple projectable spaces onstage. Barnes has said in interviews it has a “hallucinatory” effect, so … come prepared.
Frills are few and far between in the work of Seattle’s Mike Hadreas, the person behind the beautiful, heart-tortured musings of Perfume Genius. His first two albums, 2010’s Learning and the 2012 release Put Your Back N 2 It, are haunting meditations about loss and isolation and anything else that might inspire therapeutic songwriting. The genius of Perfume Genius is its minimal and lo-fi approach to songcraft, and also Hadreas’ quivering voice (playing the “sounds like” game leads to Antony and the Johnsons) that chills the soul.
The soul renaissance revolution championed by acts such as Charles Bradley and Fitz and the Tantrums has one more card-carrying member: 24-year-old wunderkind Allen Stone. The bespectacled white boy can howl with the best of them, including the legends he channels: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, et al. His self-released, self-titled debut is an exercise in angelic yet urgent vocalization, a product of years spent in his minister father’s church choir. See him before he goes on tour with Dave Matthews Band, when the price of admission might be a tad higher.
Populist muckraker Todd Snider is still fighting the good fight some 18 years since he first made some modest noise with his debut album Songs for the Daily Planet. Snider has made a career of telling stories that need to be told, about the hard-luck America that pop music often forgets exists. It’s an alt-country sensibility that embraces the people’s welfare as the main and sole purpose of its politics. If we had to qualify said politics, we’ll use his own words, from “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Repoublican Straight White American Males”: He tends to side with the “Tree-hugging, peace-loving, pot-smoking, porn-watching, lazy-ass hippies like me.”
Another entry into the great wide world of soul and all its incarnations is Oakland’s own Wallpaper. Quirky and given to random flits of jazzy horns and autotune, Wallpaper is all about converting moments into parties. Lead singer Ricky Reed dresses the part, often outfitted like a Shanghaied birthday girl. Reed and co. touch on a gamut of genres, from said soul foundation to hip-hop, electronica, rock, pop, house and beyond. Expect nothing, and expect everything. And cross your fingers for the confidently titled hit “(EFFING) BEST SONG EVERRR.”