Release Date: Aug 12, 2016
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival, Dance-Rock
of Montreal have been undergoing a slight identity crisis this past decade. After 2010's False Priest shot for muddy R&B and 2012's Paralytic Stalks ventured into dark experimental music, the Athens, Georgia quintet reached back to sunnier times for their last two albums, recreating their kaleidoscopic '90s-era sound for 2013's Lousy With Sylvianbriar and their sunny '00 days for 2015's Aureate Gloom. It's thus understandable that one might approach Innocence Reaches, the band's 14th LP, with a level of scepticism.
One of the joys of keeping pace with of Montreal’s output, particularly of late, is discovering which version will emerge from the chrysalis next. In the last half-decade alone, Kevin Barnes has shapeshifted through Paralytic Stalks’ knotty psych-pop, Lousy with Sylvianbriar’s backward-glancing 60s-tribute, and the invigorated rock-n-roll of last year’s Aureate Gloom; now, Innocence Reaches takes another mercurial swerve, with synths back in favour and flamboyance reembraced. The results flit capriciously and deliciously through tones and genres, with highlights including the mechanical electro of Let’s Relate, the stuttering du jour production of A Sport and A Pastime, and the glam rock/spaghetti western/prog hybrid (aye, another one…) that is Chaos Arpeggiating.
What happens to an artist that specializes in youthful exuberance when they're no longer young? On "Suffer for Fashion," the first track from of Montreal's landmark 2007 album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Kevin Barnes put it thusly: "If we've got to burn out, let's do it together." Even at his peak, Barnes wasn't past being concerned with burning out-it's just that he knew better than to let it bother him. If it has to happen-and it pretty much always does-he might as well do it in style. .
Some things can be relied upon, and Kevin Barnes’ Of Montreal seemingly never fail to deliver an album a year. They might well be of varying quality, admittedly, but it’d be a bit over optimistic to think such a constant stream of material would always yield fantastic results. Some might prefer Barnes had a more discerning filter, but even when his new work is on the shonky side, it’s never less than interesting.
Following studio albums inspired in part by folk-rock (Lousy with Sylvianbriar) and New York punk (Aureate Gloom), Kevin Barnes and company head more toward an updated glam-pop for studio LP 14, Innocence Reaches. The anger that marked Aureate Gloom has given way to reflection and a certain amount of lightness, without being lite. Recorded partially during a two-week stay in Paris to get away from it all after his divorce, the album is distinguished by contemporary sounds not expected from Barnes, especially on the electronic works "A Sport and a Pastime" and "Trashed Exes." The musical auteur did admit to connecting with some newer releases -- for a change -- while working on the record, naming names such as Chairlift and Jack Ü.
After nearly a decade of pushing his music in wildly disparate directions, Kevin Barnes has achieved a sort of equilibrium on Innocence Reaches, Of Montreal’s 14th studio album. The restless, album-length experiments that characterized records like Skeletal Lamping, Paralytic Stalks, and even the more accessible Lousy With Sylvanbriar (Of Montreal as late ‘60s rock) and Aureate Gloom (Of Montreal as ‘70s hard rock) have fallen away. Instead, Innocence Reaches combines a lot of those elements (both musical and lyrical) with the basic sound from Barnes’ most high-profile era, the critically-acclaimed Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and the ultra-catchy The Sunlandic Twins.
Kevin Barnes is done chasing listeners away, at least for the time being. After pruning his fan base with a run of increasingly fussy, exhausting records, lately the capricious Of Montreal frontman has been attempting to widen the tent again. 2013’s Lousy with Sylvianbriar was the band’s most inviting effort since their 2007 consensus high watermark Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer, and with its grimy ’70s rock aesthetic and openhearted account of Barnes’ divorce, 2015’s Aureate Gloom was as direct as anything he’d done in a decade.
This year’s dispatch from Kevin Barnes’s 20-year art-pop project is accomplished but slightly exhausting. Lead single It’s Different for Girls is impeccably catchy electro-pop, betrayed by lyrics shallower than a Facebook meme. It might be easier to respect its trite musings on gender – girls are “mercurial creatures”, apparently – if the artwork didn’t include a line drawing of four pairs of perky breasts.
By album number 14 a band might be forgiven for starting to run out of ideas. That can’t be said of Kevin Barnes’s verbose psych-poppers Of Montreal, who if anything are getting more adventurous with age. Innocence Reaches continues the Athens, Georgia group’s gradual shift away from their lo-fi beginnings and towards more synthetic sounds – Barnes says it was inspired by EDM duo Jack Ü and warped R&B producer Arca.
of Montreal albums have become nearly annual events. The Elephant 6-affiliated band has released a record nearly every year since they formed in 1996, resulting in a prolific and varied discography. Their sound was initially inspired by simplistic ‘60s pop, but has evolved into something more psychedelic, pushing further into the realm of electronic music.
Of Montreal used to be quite winsome, and you won’t get any more pleasure from complaining about their 14th album than you would listening to it. Innocence Reaches is lighter than last year’s appropriately titled Aureate Gloom, but it’s less fun than it thinks it is, and in pursuing a more “current,” electronic-inspired sound, it’s lost the psychedelic charms of a better post-peak Of Montreal album like, say, 2013’s lousy with sylvianbriar. Twenty years into his run as the leader of the Athens, Georgia oddball collective, Kevin Barnes’ songwriting is still a mile wide and an inch deep.
After the straightforward, blunt nature of last year’s ‘Aureate Gloom,’ ‘Innocence Reaches’ finds of Montreal’s mastermind Kevin Barnes in a much more lighthearted mood. To go with this sunnier outlook on life, Barnes has embraced contemporary electronica and has been busy making a more accessible sound. After twenty years and thirteen albums, are Of Montreal finally embracing the here and now and becoming more mainstream? The answer: kind of.
Kevin Barnes’ success as Of Montreal’s figurehead and frontman has depended on his ability to balance extremes; funk and balladry, chaos and order, abstraction and focus. Like his stylistic predecessor David Bowie, Barnes usually threads this needle with ease and efficiency, but when that tension breaks to the abstract side, the results leave little for the listener to hold onto. Of Montreal’s new record, Innocence Reaches, usually strikes this balance deftly.
It's been a rather emotional beginning of September for those who are wholly enraptured with Nick Cave's chilling Skeleton Tree. But if you've been looking for some music to decompress with, then the past month featured some rather great offerings. My top choice for the month goes to the singular ….
“Other people’s suffering is so boring”, says Kevin Barnes in blasé tones at one point during of Montreal’s latest offering. But the gross reality of Innocence Reaches is that exactly the opposite is true: while musically things stretch into strange and disparate places, it remains a consistency with of Montreal’s oeuvre that Barnes’ lyrics are at their most fascinating when based in the bare bones of his own tumultuous reality – though, that isn’t to say the doors aren’t wide open for gratuitous self-indulgence. For the past 12 years, Barnes’ relationship with Nina Grøttland (his now-ex-wife) has played at least some part in of Montreal’s best lyrical content.
Irony’s a tricky beast. Kevin Barnes has been flirting with it his whole career, though the two solidified their relationship on the second half of 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer, where Barnes debuted his subversive Georgie Fruit persona. Georgie Fruit represented the dark side of glam, the narcissistic extreme of the introspection that characterized Of Montreal’s brand of psychedelia.
It's already a foregone conclusion that 2016 will be looked upon as a complete disaster, with or without a shark-jumping Of Montreal album. Still, it wasn't all that long ago that Kevin Barnes seemed to be the one who was showing us a way to dance and laugh and be brave in the face of late-capitalist dystopia. So the amount of fatigue and cynicism baked into 14th album Innocence Reaches is not just a bummer; it's verging on ominous.