Monthly Archives: August 2010
of Montreal – False Priest
Kevin Barnes made very clear that the schizophrenic Skeletal Lamping was simply an experiment, that its bipolar vignettes were over and done with. This may be true, but the soul and funk influences that Barnes dabbled in are now more prevalent than ever on of Montreal’s electric tenth album, False Priest. Barnes also returns to recording primarily organic instruments for the first time since 2004’s Satanic Panic In The Attic, and with the help of blockbuster producer Jon Brion, Priest is the band’s fullest-sounding album to date. The wider sonic palette helps propel the polyrhythms and extended jams that drive stone cold grooves like “Girl Named Hello” and “I Feel Ya’ Strutter.” Moreover, the return to (relatively) normal song structure pays great dividends for Barnes, helping to rein in some of the more indulgent moments that occasionally bogged down Skeletal Lamping, though it sometimes remains a problem here. But for all the influences, no one’s going to mistake this for a Curtis Mayfield record. This is still an of Montreal record through and through with all the one-man harmonies (particularly on album standout “Hydra Fancies”) and psych-pop flourishes. Barnes even presents some of his most rock-oriented work in years on “Coquet Coquette” and “Famine Affair.”
Yet what makes False Priest stand out among the band’s discography isn’t just its sound. Barnes’ willingness to collaborate–not just with Brion but with like-minded vocalists Janelle Monáe and Solange–on what are primarily dancefloor-savvy numbers results in of Montreal’s most playful record yet. Sure, like all oM records, anger and depression permeate the record (especially “Casualty Of You” and “Famine Affair,” the latter of which plays like a sequel to Hissing Fauna‘s “She’s A Rejecter”). But here, just about everything feels like a party even when the lyrics state otherwise. Although Barnes has pulled off this trick before, particularly on Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, here he despairs and philosophizes as often as he jokes, keeping the focus on fun. No, it’s not perfect, but False Priest stands tall even among of Montreal’s distinguished body of work.
Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
Genre-bending soul freak Janelle Monáe’s debut EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), only suggested her potential, but on her first full-length, the ambitious, sprawling The ArchAndroid, she demonstrates the extent of her powers. As the subtitle “Suites II And III” on the cover suggests, this album indeed continues her futuristic liberate-the-oppressed allegory that she began on Metropolis. Yet like many great concept albums, following along with the story, which in this case regards Monáe’s 28th-century robot clone, isn’t necessary. Rather, it adds to the richness and depth of the album. Musically, Monáe is just as ambitious, and there is much to savor. Her command of the several styles she explores here is as stunning as it is effortless. She turns it up for the funky “Tightrope,” cools it down for the spacy soul of “Sir Greendown” and the Funkadelic-inspired “Mushrooms & Roses,” and has fun with the warped pop of “Wondaland.” The fact that all of these songs seem like logical extensions of each other rather than forced eclecticism is all the more impressive. The only real exception is the of Montreal collaboration, “Make The Bus,” which doesn’t quite fit in with the rest here. The ArchAndroid‘s wild ambitions, both lyrically and musically, can initially make the album seem daunting, but its accessibility and cohesiveness fight against this tendency. Rewarding more and more upon each listen, this is one of the best albums of the year.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Neon Bible did a curious thing to Arcade Fire. It made them popular. Sure, it wasn’t as universally acclaimed as Funeral, but it was damn close, becoming hugely critically and—as indie albums go—commercially successful. They didn’t become a household name exactly, but it wasn’t just your emotional, plaid-wearing brother or sister who knew them anymore. Even as they continued to grow in notoriety though, it was hard to imagine the Montreal septet sounding any larger on record. Accordingly, 2010’s The Suburbs showcases a new Arcade Fire, one that still has great ambitions but doesn’t find answers through ecstatic bursts of emotion. Indeed, those looking for the easy catharsis of songs like “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” or “Intervention” will be disappointed, but The Suburbs rewards in different ways.
Arcade Fire have never been so musically or lyrically direct as they are here, but they also have never been so diverse. While long-standing influences such as post-punk and David Bowie (namely his piano-driven Hunky Dory) still inform their music, Richard Parry’s howling feedback guitar suggests Sonic Youth, the hushed “Wasted Hours” is mournful folk-rock, and album highlight “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” even channels Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass.” Since the band now favors nuance over grandiosity, The Suburbs puts focus on Win Butler’s words, which often deal with the irony of longing for childhood, only to realize you spent childhood longing to mature and leave the nest in the first place. It’s more universal than the paranoid Neon Bible, and it holds together better too, mainly because his images, whether they be of pretentious, disinterested youth (“Rococo,” “Month Of May”) or reflections on childhood friends (“Suburban War”), are simple and straightforward. But while the album is strong throughout, it also has fewer distinct standout tracks than past albums, causing it to drag on occasion. Still, The Suburbs is a triumph and arguably better than Neon Bible, suggesting that Arcade Fire will continue to grow and maintain their position as one of modern rock’s most vital voices.