By now, it should be safe to say that for Kevin Barnes, making music equates to making love (read: unbridled, kinky, gratuitous sex). When it comes to Of Montreal, this much is given. Rest assured that False Priest—the band’s tenth long-player in 15 years—relentlessly delivers the lusty goods again, and what once were buds of influence from funk and R&B have now extended their bloom.
The other day I was talking about False Priest, the tenth album by Of Montreal, with the erstwhile editor of a leftfield music magazine. He described it as ‘weird’. I stared at the cur incredulously, a flurry of devastatingly eloquent rejoinders leaping out of my throat. ‘But quite a lot of the tracks have choruses!’; ‘You can sort of understand some of the lyrics!’; ‘Yeah, but compared to Skeletal Lamping...’.
The journey that of Montreal's Kevin Barnes has been on both in music and in life over the past decade-plus has been colorful, to say the least. He’s gone from an ultra-twee indie pop miniaturist who sounded like he could barely get out of bed, much less his bedroom, to a half-naked ultra-pop maximalist who commands a stage and can’t wait to get into your bedroom. He’s probably shed a few fans of the band’s early Elephant 6 sound along the way as the focus has shifted from the Beach Boys to Prince, from indie pop to capitol “P” pop.
Of Montreal’s current incarnation seems to have been constructed, one building block at a time, by elements that have chronologically joined together, from the sprightly electronics that first appeared on 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic, to the lush synth textures that dominated the following year’s The Sunlandic Twins, to the freak-funk overtones that came to prominence on 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? All of them have their place here, forming the twitching backbone of what’s their fullest, but not necessarily most satisfying, album. Marshaled by spindly eccentric Kevin Barnes, the band has established itself as consistently adept at melding inanity with seriousness via batshit songs that are gaudy while socially conscious. It’s the kind of mixture that allows a moment like the end of “You Do Mutilate?,” in which Barnes gets angrily preachy about close-mindedness, to come off as earned rather than tiresome.
Listening to recent of Montreal albums has often felt like diving headfirst into frontman Kevin Barnes’ unruly subconscious. It’s vastly easier to make sense of his latest batch of ecstatic glam/funk/bubblegum fantasies, thanks in large part to co-producer Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Kanye West). On False Priest, Brion reins in Barnes’ hyperactive tendencies and cleans up his sound mix, bringing just enough sanity to make his mad experiments succeed.
As heavily as Kevin Barnes’ music draws on styles like soul, funk, electro, glam, indie, and everything else that he throws into the blender that is his musical consciousness, you can tell that he’s not a genre hijacker. Accusations of cultural piracy that haunt guys like Vampire Weekend and even Dirty Projectors don’t come close to Barnes; much to the contrary, among of Montreal’s collaborators on False Priest include leftfield R&B masterminds Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles, and the album was given a sonic makeover by former Kanye West co-producer Jon Brion. The full-flavored R&B vocals and deeper, expanded low-end frequencies of the tracks don’t interrupt of Montreal’s aesthetic coherence (what little of it there is) or stylistic integrity.
From this point on, Kevin Barnes needs a studio. Period. Up to now, he's recorded all the Of Montreal records virtually alone at home, which worked well when he was making folk-pop records (perfected on 2002's Aldhils Arboretum). But as he's moved toward electro-funk-pop, it's gotten harder and harder to capture the spectacle of his sound in home recordings.
Review Summary: Kevin Barnes goes back to being Kevin Barnes.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.
Is Kevin Barnes tired of sex? In the past three years, the waifish Of Montreal auteur has reinvented himself as a psychedelic Prince, leaving behind the innocent Elephant 6 storybook for a sweaty concoction of synthesizers and seduction. On the masterful Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Barnes battled depression and gave birth to a lascivious Mr. Hyde.
Of Montreal's enjoyably bizarre 10th album fuses funk with indie, and sees Kevin Barnes taking his R&B-styled falsetto to unpredictably provocative places. From the "obsessive teenage lust" on Coquet Coquette to the surreal perversions of Like a Tourist ("dragon rape … unicorns eating baby meat"), Barnes loads on the kink. False Priest's funk leanings are reinforced by special guests such as Janelle Monáe, bringing a ray of glamour to Enemy Gene, and Solange Knowles, adding some sass to Sex Karma; but there's an undertow of spiritual angst throughout the album, too.
Even as an ancillary member of Athens, Georgia’s psych-pop outfit Elephant Six (home to Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo, Circulatory System, et al) Kevin Barnes and his of Montreal troupe often stood out as “the weird ones”. What began as a piano-based folk-pop project that turned out heavily narrative-driven musings on gay life, bored marriages, middle management immobility, and whatever was going on in the imaginary universe of Coquelicot has (mostly) organically evolved into the most unexpected of things: a funk outfit. What began as an artistic rebirth on Hissing Fauna, in which Barnes took the dance-oriented synths of Sunlandic Twins and Satanic Panic to their most conceptual as he slowly transformed into the drag queen Georgie Fruit in order to cope with his depression and divorce, has now come to encompass everything about the band.
Kevin Barnes is not afraid to think big. His group, Of Montreal, explores musical styles that range from club-ready R&B to Broadway-ready musicals. His lyrics go deep into explorations of identity and depression. And his live show is a circus of dancers and musicians and day-glo costumes. Now ….
Prolific songwriters tend to flabbergast with their steady flow of releases, sometimes unfortunately casting aside true substance in favor pure mass. Kevin Barnes – operating, as always, under his Of Montreal guise – is no stranger to this trend, having time and again astonished audiences with both his rapid fire cadence of new releases and multi-faceted songs that are sometimes as gauche as they are eclectic. Since 1997, the Athens, Georgia native has pumped out no fewer than a dozen albums of rapturous indie pop, beginning with the gleeful debut Cherry Peel.
The group’s colourful alt-pop has started to dull on their tenth LP. Rob Webb 2010 The garish collage that comprises the cover of the tenth of Montreal album offers a pretty accurate appraisal of its sonic palette. Although always a fairly outlandish songwriter, mainman Kevin Barnes' increasingly erratic stylistic twists have taken a turn for the even weirder on False Priest, leaving it a listen that will test the patience of all but OM's staunchest fans.
Sorry, the page you are looking for could not be found. Please use the site search at the top right or click one of the sections below. Fearless and irreverent Toronto news, analysis and live content focused on City Hall, Queen’s Park, the TTC, the environment, activism and more. Toronto fashion and design trends, environment tips and product reviews from Ecoholic Adria Vasil, Freewill Astrology by Rob Brezsny and Dan Savage's sex column Savage Love.