Release Date: Oct 8, 2013
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
of Montreal have been a million different entities, from a billion different angles in a trillion different dimensions. From the peppy acid-dance punk of 2007’s brilliant Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, to the psychedelic indie-pop/funk of 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic!, mastermind Kevin Barnes’ muses are lengthy and disparate. However chameleonic Barnes and Co.
Who could have expected this? For a band who are seemingly okay with prioritizing quantity over quality, it’s certainly impressive that Lousy With Sylvianbriar, Of Montreal’s 12th studio album, is the band’s best in a long, long time. Yes, some of the band’s most popular material comes in the form of dark pop songs that soundtrack Outback Steakhouse commercials, and their past few efforts have been sub-par. Yet lest we forget that Of Montreal is behind the occasional wildcard like 2001’s excellent, weird, and all-over-the-place Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies.
Though Kevin Barnes had always used Of Montreal to build a strange, often beautiful world of complex personal thoughts and visions, his albums grew increasingly manic (musically and psychologically) throughout the mid-2000s. Over the project's lengthy career, Barnes had taken his muse from sweetly lo-fi bedroom twee beginnings to bouncy disco-pop heights, landing in some bizarre, wounded state of indie R&B dementia by the time of albums like 2010's False Priest, with his lyrics growing increasingly raw and scattered. 2012's almost impenetrably dense Paralytic Stalks found Barnes' hyper-personal self-analysis and quickly changing psychedelic pop reaching a saturation point for many listeners, and reviews were mixed.
Varied though they are, of Montreal records usually share some qualities—intimate lyrics, expressive melodies, detailed arrangements and airtight vocal harmonies among them. Those are all present on Lousy with Sylvianbriar, even with its avant-country flavor and slimmed-down production. Sylvianbriar brings a sunny openness to of Montreal’s ever-evolving cache with its sweeping changes in styles and instrumentation and adherence to more traditional song structures.
Some bands seem just too massive to discuss critically in any reasonable way. Over a 17-year career, of Montreal has released eleven full-length albums, nine EPs, and a number of non-album singles and compilations. Across this monstrous career, its albums have contained bits of twee indie pop, glam rock, 60’s-influenced psychedelia, electronic music, funk, as well as pieces snatched from countless other styles.
Of MontrealLousy With Sylvanbriar(Polyvinyl)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars From Kevin Barnes’ earliest lo-fi recordings of psychedelic pop, Of Montreal has always been a band that operated on the fringes — even by underground standards. So much of their work has been driven by Barnes’ fantastical sense of whimsy — in turn an escape from his own psychological torment — which has produced albums that range from 1998’s stripped-down song cycle Bedside Drama: A Petite Tragedy to 2001’s dizzying operetta, Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies. After achieving a heart-wrenching personal best with the genre- and gender-bending Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? in 2007, however, Barnes has had trouble dialing back that same whimsy, to the point that it became more of a liability than an asset.
Review Summary: Kevin Barnes, unplugged. Over the course of sixteen years and twelve studio albums, of Montreal have made a living out of the maxim “change or die. ” Most commonly united only by Kevin Barnes’s swirling, muddied neuroses and a flair for the dramatic, figuring out where of Montreal would go next became almost as much fun as actually listening to them.
Credit Kevin Barnes for knowing when he’s testing your patience. After last year’s Paralytic Stalks, where his flamboyance came across as ho-hum and even his self-absorption sounded strangely obligatory, Barnes changed up his process for Of Montreal’s 12th album. He left Athens, Georgia, and decamped to San Francisco to write. Instead of recording by himself, as he has done on almost every Of Montreal album, he assembled a small band of sympathetic performers.
In 1965, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited changed the landscape of music for the next decade. From folk to psych, rock to country, all sorts of sounds blurred together, creating a free-for-all music scene that persisted into the early ’70s. Artists questioned everything following that year’s Newport Folk Festival — If Dylan could go electric, what rules were left? Nearly half a century later, that question’s moot, especially for Kevin Barnes and of Montreal.
The fate of most artists isn't burning out or fading away, but to simply carry on existing. Which is not intended by way of criticism Kevin Barnes and Of Montreal, a band that has continued to exist prolifically since 2007’s indie/funk/electro/Kraut/confessional masterpiece Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? But after releasing that record’s fucked up sibling (Skeletal Lamping) and its funked up one (False Priest), Barnes has had the air of a man who has firmly moved on from – for want of a better turn of phrase – the music he was ‘best’ at. The curate’s egg EP thecontrollersphere was followed by the sickly prog of last year’s Paralytic Stalks.
Kevin Barnes is clearly not a man for taking a break. Over the last 16 years, of Montreal's leading light has rattled off close to a record a year. And these are never just any old long-player; each is antithetical to its predecessor, a bleeding statement of Barnes' thirst for forward-thinking pop melodies. .
Over the past decade, Of Montreal leader Kevin Barnes has explored futuristic realms of funked-up experimentalism, but Lousy with Sylvianbriar represents a deliberate about-face. The album was tracked to tape, mostly live-off-the-floor, and the songs sound like Barnes has been indulging in a steady diet of classic rock. We hear the rollicking energy of electric-era Dylan, the scrappy blues of the Stones and the harmony-kissed sweetness of CSNY.
Despite a prolific discography that can be accurately categorized as batshit insane (albeit marvelously so), Kevin Barnes's Of Montreal collective has decided to embrace classic rock on their 12th release, Lousy with Sylvianbriar. There are hints of Deerhunter's ramshackle punk sessions from Monomania and Spoon's brand of garage pop strewn throughout, but at its core the album is an unabashed throwback to '60s psych-rock, with Of Montreal aping the posture of revered British Invasion bands like the Kinks and the Zombies to deliver a series of funky and often raucous baroque arrangements. Topped off with Barnes's wry sense of humor, its Technicolor artwork, and intentionally overwrought track titles, there's a sense that, with Lousy with Sylvianbriar, Of Montreal has produced the exact kind of album MGMT was attempting with Congratulations and MGMT.
Will the real Kevin Barnes please stand up?The name Barnes, and main creative outlet of Montreal (they have, for this album, gone through a near-complete line-up transformation) have made for themselves, is based around weirdness. Oddities. Strange things. Songs veering between extremes, never going quite where expected.
Authentic musical swagger sounds effortless and the more you try to fake it, the more likely you are to alienate your audience. Just ask of Montreal. Once upon a time in a land called 2007, the Athens, Ga.–based band had arrogance and strut to spare. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, a ….
Since at least 2007?s career-defining Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, Kevin Barnes has used Of Montreal as his own personal confession booth, psychotherapy session, and anger management. Each of the “band”‘s last four albums were written and recorded almost exclusively by Barnes (barring the occasional notable guest appearance), focused almost exclusively on his twin obsessions of self-identity and sexual psychosis, and, culminating in last year’s at times impenetrable Paralytic Stalks, became increasingly insular and inward-facing. Lousy with Sylvianbriar comes as act of comparative light relief after Paralytic Stalks‘ exercise in pure self-flagellation, though how far the phrase “light relief” is appropriate with regards to an album containing the lyric ”they’re letting children get blown up in their schools today/So they can get them back into their factories” is debatable.
Of Montreal Lousy With Sylvianbriar (Polyvinyl) Whereas Of Montreal visionary Kevin Barnes concocts schizophrenic pop that sounds like caffeinated acid trips, 12th album Lousy with Sylvianbriar strums out a more agreeable amalgam for the veteran Athens, Ga., clown car. Credit Barnes' decreased workload on the October release. The 39-year-old recorded only guitar and bass tracks for LWS, leaving drums, strings, keys, and backup vocal duties to session players and Montreal tourmates (Kishi Bashi, Clayton Rychlik).
Of Montreal — Lousy with Sylvianbriar (Polyvinyl)On Lousy with Sylvianbriar, Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes seems to have abruptly left behind the baroque synth-centric soul of his past several albums in favor of something far simpler. The album doesn’t return to his earlier twee psychedelic phase; instead, we get a simple drums-bass-guitar combo, turning in bluesy, 1960s-inspired rock that feels far more austere and subdued than pretty much anything else Barnes has ever recorded. To be sure, many of the Of Montreal hallmarks are present—the verbose and psychodramatic lyrics, unpredictable, yet oddly catchy melodies and idiosyncratic song structures.
Fine, I'll be the prick and say what everyone's thinking. Look at that fucking artwork. Just look at it. I dare you not to laugh. This is a book you can judge by its cover. The music inside sounds just like the sleeve looks: hackneyed, nauseating, backward-thinking, and dumb. It roars with all the ….