Review Summary: "There's blood in my hair."
Liking Of Montreal is about the same as liking that primetime T.V. show that once sucked you out of your living room for some forty-odd minutes, plus commercials, every week. At the start, perhaps you raved about it to your friends and family, forced them to slice an hour’s worth of time from their own Monday’s pie chart, allowing the program equal opportunity to wheedle its infection into their brains as well; hell, you probably had the words best ever
dangling from your hype holster. There comes the point, though, when you realize you’ve got not only your Jack Bauer all figured out, but also his entire, contracting universe, down to the formulaic significance of every red, digital second. At this needle-to-balloon juncture, you keep watching, so long as your own time allows it, but only because you’re damn near addicted to a drug of a show so agonizingly recreational you may as well play Bingo to its plot nodes.
Back to the band: since 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer
’s honest, manic marriage of depression with quirkiness, frontman Kevin Barnes, now without a doubt the group’s flesh and blood, seems to be the mole, the W.M.D., the bad guy, the twist, and Bauer himself, always and without variation. What did Tarantino’s Hans Landa say again? “Oooooh, that’s a Bingo
!” And so it is. A new Of Montreal album? Eh, it’ll probably feature polysyllabic, typically prolix song titles escorted by lyrics in which Barnes gaudily exorcises his black transsexual ex-glam-star of an alter ego. Oh, and there will be a tour, too, a really weird tour. Ever seen people in pig costumes simulating porcine fornication? Because you can, you know…and so, now that I’ve got you absolutely dying to submit your ears to Paralytic Stalks
, the new album from the “band” that survived its own essentially-defunct Elephant 6 Collective, complete with unrepeatable track names including “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission” and “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” (I mean, really
?), I’m going to cross my arms, so to speak, letting my hand rest cautiously on my already-mentioned holster, and warn you, reader, to approach this record with care. If you should choose to duck under the yellow tape at all, that is.
For all the familiar red flags waggling around the record at first glance i.e. Barnes’ loony verbosity, the album’s WTF-worthy cover art (winged, mutilated fleshy Pac Man-kinda looking things, with fangs, that could double as lobster claws?), Paralytic Stalks
charts out fresh new territory with a deranged ferocity reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz
, which was, itself, the product of a short circuiting of every synapse in a singular musician’s wiring. Here is the sound of Kevin Barnes, having ingested A.D.Z., the Psychosis Particle; and this is the way Georgie Fruit ends, not with a gangbang but a hiss. No more falsetto declarations of lovers fetishizing the archetype…nope. “Every time I listen to my heart,” Barnes confesses in “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission” with more than a hint of the emotional sincerity that made Hissing Fauna
the misunderstood John Merrick of the Elephant 6’s record canon, “just get hurt.” Then subside the glitz, the la-la-la’s. And enter the atonal strings, the cacophonic wind instruments, the musique concrète of a power saw rending what may as well be bone.
There are elements of pop sprinkled here or there – take “Dour Percentage,” the last minute of which is one of Barnes’ most glorious stabs at dissecting the soul
of his own madness – but, at heart, Paralytic Stalks
is imbued with utter pain; “Someone’s terrorized my psyche to get even,” he half-narrates in album standout “We Will Commit Wolf Murder,” a gorgeously dark orchestral-funk number littered with contradictory, subtly emotive lyrical declarations (the weaponizing of silence between Barnes and his unnamed “you,” the only person he believes in). Elsewhere, he makes his true love cry, noting how good it feels; he returns to his “crystal;” he makes drunk calls from Brazilian bathrooms, too gone to speak; he bemoans the bitterness of his comedown days; and in sonic centerpiece “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” (terrible name, I concede), he cries out to Nina – his real-life wife, likely the impetus behind Barnes’ surprise detour from formula, that it
, whatever it
is, has left him in holes. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think it
is him, Barnes. Like Stevens before him, he’s partaking in some weird self-cannibalism of questionable medicinal validity, less entertaining than it is fascinating and oddly relatable, cathartic in that we as listeners are reminded of our individual humanity by empathizing with the audible suffering of a man who we can’t be sure is, uh, sane anymore.