Category Archives: of Montreal
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.
of Montreal – thecontrollersphere [EP]
Kevin Barnes chanted three phrases at the end of 2007’s “Faberge Falls For Shuggie,” two of which—”skeletal lamping” and “false priest”—became the titles of of Montreal’s next two full-length albums. On these albums, Barnes (mostly) performed in the guise of his transgender funk freak alter-ego Georgie Fruit, who seems to revel in all sorts of transgressive behavior and kinky sex, two big topics of discussion in the lyrics. Now, using the third and final phrase from the chant as a title (and perhaps thereby completing the Georgie Fruit trilogy), Barnes releases thecontrollersphere, a bewildering, messy EP that even further warps the cosmic R&B of the band’s recent work. It takes the Georgie Fruit more-is-more approach to its logical conclusion, a dense patchwork of musical textures and styles, never staying in one place for too long. 2008’s Skeletal Lamping was comprised almost entirely of multi-segmented suites, but on thecontrollersphere, it often sounds as if segments are playing simultaneously or smashed together, often to the detriment of the songs.
From the first brutal second of the crushing “Black Lion Massacre,” it seems that Barnes is pushing his music toward a sort of punishing no-wave-inspired rock, something he threatened in interviews in years past. Actually, the track turns out to be a red herring because much of thecontrollersphere simply plays like a convoluted version of of Montreal’s last few albums, albeit with less memorable melodies and many failed experiments. “Flunkt Sass vs the Root Plume,” “L’age D’or” and especially “Slave Translator” all have their moments, but Barnes simply tries too much, stunting their growth, not allowing the songs to get off the ground. The only real standout is the centerpiece, “Holiday Call,” which escalates into a Bollywood-esque dance freak out. Barnes clearly needed to get these ideas out of his system (and it’s good he did it on an EP and not a studio album), but if this is indeed Georgie Fruit’s last stand, it’s for the best—Barnes has pushed his persona as far as it can go.
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.