Posts tagged: Kevin Barnes

of Montreal – Micro University

By , October 2, 2012 10:00 am

Because of Montreal never does anything half-assed, Kevin Barnes and company will be releasing a voluminous rarities compilation on October 23, entitled Daughter of Cloud (sixteen originals and an out-of-left-field Buffalo Springfield cover), just a few months after releasing one of 2012′s weirdest albums. “Micro University” is one of the confirmed tracks, and reminds me a bit of the band’s emphasis on funk on Skeletal Lamping along with the more straightforward pop inflections of Satanic Panic in the Attic.

of Montreal – “Micro University”

of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

By , February 8, 2012 10:00 am

of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

Polyvinyl 2012

Rating: 7/10

It was sometime around the third or fourth extended coda, amidst buzzsaw guitar riffs, cheesy sci-fi space effects, the jarring tonal shifts and the occasional burst of fire alarm noise, that I resigned myself to a particular fact: Kevin Barnes is never going to change. Or, to put it another way – he’s always going to change, usually with a middle finger aimed in the general direction of his last record. And really, there’s no incentive for him to rein himself in: ever since The Sunlandic Twins of Montreal has become a one-man show, and certainly no one is holding their breath waiting for Polyvinyl to edit their biggest draw. So it is that we get an album like Paralytic Stalks, one that is as sprawling, egomaniacal and batshit insane as any Barnes has put down.  This lack of an editor is what leads to a song like the divisive “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” a song so obviously anti-commercial and contrary to what of Montreal have built their sound on that it’s less an actual song and more a referendum on just how far Barnes can go nowadays before people bat an eye. Chances are this one won’t be on an Outback commercial anytime soon.

Make no mistake – this is nothing new for Barnes. Sure, he has been talking up 20th century minimalism in interviews – Penderecki, Ives, Schoenberg – but those are just convenient touchstones for an increasingly out-there experimentalism that has been a recurring theme in late-period of Montreal: Hissing Fauna’s “The Past is a Grotesque Animal;” “You Do Mutilate” off of 2010’s False Priest; the scattershot framework of Skeletal Lamping. The difference between those songs and “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” though, is the latter’s utter lack of purpose. It’s simply there, a seven-and-a-half minute-long burst of atonality and spoken word nightmares, which creates quite the atmosphere but begs the question: why? It’s cold and it’s clinical, all feelings Barnes was probably going for, but in the context of Paralytic Stalks, an album predicated on Barnes being more heart-on-his-sleeve than he’s ever been before, it’s worse than pointless.

It’s a shame, because, for much of Paralytic Stalk’s first half and even for most of the more unhinged second act, Kevin Barnes strikes a near-perfect balance between pop mastery and a delightful sort of weird. This, of course, has a lot to do with Barnes’ famously acerbic lyrics, which take a turn for the better here despite his propensity for using language only an English professor could love.  He hasn’t sounded this engaged since Hissing Fauna, nor have his vocals ever sounded quite so strained. That’s the good thing about Paralytic Stalks  – even when you can’t really understand what Barnes is saying, between the deranged yelps and those easily understood tidbits (“It’s fucking sad / that we need a tragedy / to gain a fresh perspective in our lives” goes one stomach-punch of an opening), you can generally get the feeling that this is coming from a dark and deeply personal place. Nothing is ever going to stop Barnes from naming a song “Malefic Dowery” or writing lyrics like “naturally I want to help you invoke the architect of salutary memes / our heads are pregnant with divine mechanics but, oh, how we’re tyrannized / by tentacles of their ferine stupidity.” But occasionally a gem will pop up like “once more I turn to my crotch for counsel,” or Barnes will descend back down to the tongue of humans for a moment and speak with touching frankness (“I spend my waking hours haunting my life / I made the one I love start crying tonight” goes the weeping refrain from “Spiteful Intervention”). It’s a reminder that of Montreal is, first and foremost, a vehicle for Barnes to express his innermost grievances and joys, and given the embarrassingly bare-bones style and narcissist bent, you have to admire just how plainly he lays all his cards out on the table.

Where Paralytic Stalks really shines, however, is through its hooks. The sequence from “Spiteful Intervention” through “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” is Barnes’ strongest since Hissing Fauna, and it’s blissfully unaware of the existential baggage it has to carry. “We Will Commit Wolf Murder” and “Malefic Dowery” are probably two of the most “traditional” of Montreal songs here; the former a catchy pop-rock number with a muscular bass line and an out-of-left-field vamp in the outro, while the latter calls to mind the sweeter melodies of the Elephant 6 days and one of the more pleasantly lush productions on the record. “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff,” meanwhile, might be the best track here, not only for its surprisingly jagged guitar solo and propulsive chorus but also for the way it perfectly bridges Paralytic Stalk’s quite disparate halves. “I can think of nothing but getting my revenge / make those fuckers pay,” Barnes screams, and that’s where the guitar really goes off, spiraling up into a glorious distortion before abruptly tailing off into the song’s second half, where things rapidly go from angry to weird. Here, though, it’s all according to plan: the way the song builds itself back up and around a driving piano beat and discordant saxophone; increasingly random bits of noise splicing in here and there, but eventually coming to rest right where they should; a major-key payoff musically and emotionally.

Things get less and less coherent as Barnes builds on this deconstruction of a pop song through “Wintered Debts” and the aforementioned “Exorcismic Breeding Knife,” to the point where Barnes has squandered any goodwill and murdered the record’s momentum by the time “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission” rolls around. It’s a shame, because if any song could point to what Barnes can accomplish as an avant-garde musician, it’s this one. The first half of the song is an old-school of Montreal classic in its own right, all sticky-sweet melodies and swinging hooks, yet when the expected shift comes to a blistering array of electronics and a downtempo move to horror-film strings, it flows logically rather than bashing the listener over the head with dissonance. The way Barnes slowly tones down the fuzz, segueing into the lovely wisp of a piano ballad that closes out the last two minutes, is a striking example of restraint from a man not usually blessed with that particular faculty. This is minimalism with a purpose, one that enhances the song and, with its gradual descent, provides a sort of comedown from the rest of the album as well.  “Our illumination is complete,” Barnes sings at the close, and it’s an overdramatic statement for a typically overdramatic guy, but it’s also one with a bit of hope for the future. Paralytic Stalks is most assuredly not the type of record that is going to get of Montreal a mainstream breakthrough a la The Sunlandic Twins, but for those of us who have been frustrated with his inconsistency and general unwillingness to stay in any one place, it just might be the twinkling of a light at the end of the tunnel.

of Montreal – “Malefic Dowery”

List Price: $13.98 USD
New From: $8.22 In Stock
Used from: $2.88 In Stock
Release date February 7, 2012.

Of Montreal – Ye, Renew the Plaintiff

By , January 18, 2012 10:00 am

Certified indie-pop nutjob Kevin Barnes and his constantly metamorphosing band of Montreal are releasing their eleventh album, Paralytic Stalks, February 7th, although a leaked copy has already found its way onto the web. It’s been a long, wild, occasionally annoying journey with Barnes and company, who rose from the ashes of the Elephant 6 record label and their peculiar brand of conceptual twee into increasingly oddball lyrical journeys and increasingly divergent musical tastes, culminating with Barnes’ role as a fictional transsexual musician named Georgie Fruit. 2010′s False Priest eased up on the weird throttle and got back to what drew me to of Montreal in the first place, namely Barnes’ penchant for melody and an appreciation of genres not normally seen in the indie pop game. Paralytic Stalks is sufficiently bizarre to qualify as another of Montreal release, but is firmly grounded in a colorful pop tradition. “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” even has a pretty sick guitar solo that rips along before an extended outro takes things to outer space and beyond.

Check out the song if you’re an of Montreal fan and ready to subject yourself to another Kevin Barnes roller-coaster ride. And check out Pitchfork’s interview with the outlandish Barnes below.

Of Montreal – “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff”

Of Montreal – False Priest

By , September 10, 2010 8:00 am

Of Montreal – False Priest

Polyvinyl 2010

Rating: 7/10

Kevin Barnes frustrates me. After his Elephant 6 also-rans Of Montreal released the archetypal power-pop album (Satanic Panic in the Attic) about seven years too late, Barnes hopped onto the electro bandwagon, had some relationship problems, and devolved further and further into his fictional alter ego, a middle-aged African-American former glam rocker named Georgie Fruit who had undergone multiple sex changes. That was a lot to type, and Of Montreal’s latter years output has been quite a lot to listen to. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was rightly applauded as the sort of quasi-operatic electro-pop epic Barnes’ talent has always hinted at, complete with twelve-minute existential crises and fanciful wordplay. But Skeletal Lamping was everything I hated about Hissing Fauna magnified, Barnes’ rampant imagination given a green light to roam by all the critical masturbation, resulting in an album that was in desperate need of an editor, or better yet, a hook of any kind. So now comes Of Montreal’s tenth album, a milestone for any band but even more so from a group that is barely recognizable from their twee Elephant 6 days.

Considering I’ve gotten less and less excited for an Of Montreal release since Sunlandic Twins, I came to False Priest with more or less an open mind and one question: will we be getting crazy transsexual Georgie Fruit with this release, the one who doesn’t know when to shut up, or the relatively more mild-mannered Kevin Barnes, who could write a pop song to stand up with the best of Mangum and Schneider? I was pleasantly surprised to find that False Priest definitely leans towards the band’s earlier days, most noticeable in their decision to return to live instruments and a more organic recording process. Opener “I Feel Ya Strutter” is almost a revelation in this regard, although it’s without doubt a stereotypically Of Montreal-ian song – the drums are crisp and bouncy and the bass bubbly with a hint of funk, all while Barnes’ less-vocodered-than-usual vocals propel a pretty straightforward power-pop delight. There’s no electro gimmick, no crazy shift in tone or style, no Barnes yelping like a castrated maniac. There’s still that faint tinge of weirdness that reminds you this isn’t the Apples in Stereo, like that spoken-word bit in the bridge and typically bizarre lyrics (“I’m in a flight simulator / and I am crashing the birth of any potential memory / hey, I’m still way erect for you”). Right from the get-go, it’s obvious this isn’t going to be another Skeletal Lamping; False Priest is composed of actual individual songs, not a thousand piece cut-and-paste experiment, and the album as a whole is better off for it.

It’s not as if Barnes is entirely abandoning his Fruit persona. Some of False Priest’s best tunes mix in a healthy amount of funky R&B, particularly the blue-eyed soul and fat bass on “Hydra Fancies” and the superb combo of “Sex Karma” and “A Girl Named Hello.” It makes Barnes’ past missteps even more tragic when you hear a song like the effortless booty-shaking of “Girl Named Hello,” where it becomes obvious that a Kevin Barnes with a specified direction and a studio environment that doesn’t encourage endless tinkering is far superior to a Kevin Barnes trying to be the Elephant 6 version of Kevin Shields. And then there’s songs like “Coquet Coquette,” which sounds like a noise-rock outtake from Sunlandic Twins (read: awesome) or the Janelle Monae collaboration on “Enemy Gene,” where Barnes and the R&B superstar combine for the smoothest, most satisfying melody on the album. These songs are good precisely because they don’t try to overstep their bounds or become something they’re not – they follow the melody Barnes sets out for them, and although it’s been a while since he’s been so straightforward, his first-rate songwriting chops rise to the surface quite clearly here.

But it wouldn’t be an Of Montreal record if Barnes didn’t decide to fuck around here or there, and False Priest is as inconsistent as most everything else in the band’s discography. Where Barnes falls, he falls hard: the primarily spoken-word verses of “Our Riotous Defects” are embarrassingly bad; “Godly Intersex” can’t decide whether it wants to be an oddball slow jam or psychedelic pop and instead fades away with nary a lasting hook; and the way Barnes ends the proceedings, with the average “Around The Way” and the completely unnecessary 7-minute wankery of “You Do Mutilate?” is practically criminal.  Don’t get me started on Barnes’ lyrics or predictably eccentric song titles – with lyrics like “you fetishize the archetype” and “when we experiment, I will put down your surrogate,” I’ve long given up trying to understand just what Barnes is getting at. Then again, isn’t that what Of Montreal have always been about? Subverting the Elephant 6 power-pop convention with his own quirkiness and defiantly unique peculiarities, Barnes has always been his own man, although once he finally made it out of the shadows of his contemporaries he got a little bit over his head with the genre/gender bending. With False Priest, Barnes finally seems to be settling into his own skin, cherry picking from his long history and patching it all back together into something that Of Montreal could ride into the new decade. Just no more concept albums, please.

Of Montreal – “Sex Karma”

List Price: $14.98 USD
New From: $4.25 In Stock
Used from: $1.78 In Stock
Release date September 14, 2010.

Of Montreal – Enemy Gene

By , September 8, 2010 8:00 am

I get much more of a Sundlandic Twins vibe than a Hissing Fauna or, worse, Skeletal Lamping feeling from Of Montreal’s new record, which drops next Tuesday. This is definitely for the better – for all their critical acclaim, I couldn’t stand those latter two albums. Here’s to Kevin Barnes not trying so hard to be a African-American transsexual with a penchant for G-funk. Janelle Monae with a sweet guest spot here.

Of Montreal – “Enemy Gene”

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