of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks
of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks
With thecontrollersphere EP, Kevin Barnes seemingly put an end to his sex freak persona, Georgie Fruit, whose tales of late-night conquests and later-night depression he’d been exploring since the tail end of 2007’s masterful Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? If Fruit was a way for Barnes to escape into his imagination and fantasy, Paralytic Stalks finds Barnes returning to dealing with his problems and emotions directly. This isn’t a return to the sugary pop of his past, though: Fruit may be gone, but his spirit still lingers. Under the Fruit guise, Barnes was free to dabble in all manner of experimental R&B, fragmented song structures and playful, verbose lyrics. All of these remain on Paralytic Stalks, but R&B and soul don’t provide the foundation for the music anymore, even if they flavor the tracks here and there. Instead, the album explores the extremes of of Montreal’s sound, featuring Barnes at his most difficult and accessible, gentle and furious. In interviews leading up to the record’s release, he frequently name-checked Sufjan Stevens’ The Age Of Adz, inspired by its artistic ambition. It should not come as a surprise, then, that there’s no obvious single here, and many songs reach into the 7+ minute mark. “Gelid Ascent” mainly serves as an extended intro—all swirling noise, echo and clashing percussion—but the record really picks up with “Spiteful Intervention” and “Dour Percentage,” two tracks that perfectly merge Barnes’ supreme melodic ability and his restless sonic tinkering. The former is all barely contained resentment (“I made the one I love start crying tonight, and it felt good!” he screams), while the latter dresses relationship woes in vocal harmonies and woodwind orchestrations so lovely, it’s easy to overlook the torment underneath, something Barnes does best. The reflective “Wintered Debts” also manages to effectively balance its bitter verses with its funereal coda. Yet Paralytic Stalks is often a record that seems at odds with itself, alternating between brilliance and madness. The two chaotic jams “We Will Commit Wolf Murder” and “Ye, Renew The Plaintiff” start off great but begin to meander a little as they race to the finish. Even more curious is “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” a swirling sound collage that borders on musique concrète for its entire 8 minute sprawl, and the marathon closer “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission,” whose sprightly beginning and introspective ending are separated by eerie drones. Some of the experimental sections in these songs are striking, but they are nearly always upstaged by their more conventional counterparts, not to mention the breezy respite “Malefic Dowery,” which helps to serve as a reset button among the album’s denser tracks. Considering Barnes took inspiration from The Age Of Adz, it’s fitting that Paralytic suffers the same flaw as that album: the record is meant to be both emotionally direct and sonically adventurous, but the experiments and indulgences sometimes obscure the emotion rather than bring it into sharper relief. Paralytic Stalks is still a fine effort with many fantastic moments, but given the strength of the more structured songs here, it’s hard not to wish Barnes would quit mucking around and get back to what he does best.