Review : Of Montreal - False Priest
PitchforkIs 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. Things only got more X-rated on Skeletal Lamping, an overstuffed orgy in both lyrical content and musical density overseen by Barnes' transvestite alter ego, Georgie Fruit. False Priest, the third part of this tarted-up trilogy, shows that Barnes is serious about his new phase, while also suggesting it might have gone stale.
For someone so concerned lately with coupling, Barnes' recording process over this period has been a largely solitary pursuit. False Priest is billed as a more collaborative effort, both on the production end with musical savant Jon Brion and in the spotlighted duets with divas Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles. The outside influences play the role of Ritalin to Barnes' ADD, but the leaner sound reveals flaws even as it proposes ways to rebuild.
Take the duets, which offer the opportunity for Barnes' R&B fantasy camp to become reality; putting aside the fact that Barnes had already gotten pretty good at singing in duet, or trio, or chorus, with himself. "Enemy Gene", with Janelle Monáe, fares better of the two, not surprising given how her The ArchAndroid revealed Monáe as one of the few spirits restless enough to keep pace with Barnes. Turning particle physics and evolutionary biology into pillow talk, the (relatively) subdued track both features and is aptly described by Mellotron. However, Knowles' appearance, "Sex Karma", is a straightforward Jacksons pastiche built around the lamest double-entendre in Barnes' career: the John Mayer-esque leer, "you look like a playground to me."
Elsewhere, the duet is less between voices but between the musical palettes of Barnes and Brion, which prove compatible but are clearly differentiated. The letdown is that Brion's influence sounds less collaborative than cosmetic, as though Barnes showed up with a 95% complete album on his laptop and the duo merely set about punching up Of Montreal's characteristically thin sound. Still, the places where Brion's fingerprints (and gear) are most apparent are some of the album's highlights: the Wendy Carlos-style vocoder on the chorus of "Like a Tourist", the thicker guitar chug of "Coquet Coquette" and "Famine Affair", the lush, astral coda of "Our Riotous Defects"....full text
PopmattersEven 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. And while Barnes claims the Fruit persona has been cast aside for this release, it’s often difficult to notice.
False Priest presents itself as a highly impenetrable album because of Barnes’ word choice. Where Skeletal Lamping was an album so ramshackle musically that certain sects claimed the album was intended to be played backward, False Priest flips the conceit the other direction and creates an awesomely dense lyrical journey. Not that the music is any less dramatic or afflicted by an extreme desire to impress. “Coquette Coquette” runs itself through three or four distinct movements, all slightly related, but like Skeletal Lamping, feeling more like a few different ideas mashed together. Many of the songs, particularly “Our Righteous Defects” and “Girl Named Hello”, feature extended musical codas that sometimes lead into the next track, sometimes serve as nothing more than extra time on the CD. “Our Righteous Defects” should be a welcome surprise to long-time listeners, by the way, as Barnes revives his spoken word style from the Gay Parade days for a little relationship interplay with R&B savior(?) Janelle Monae before allowing her a spaced out solo. Monae returns again more prominently for “Enemy Gene”, one of the album’s first great moments. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the few songs in which Barnes finds an adorable melody and prefers to stick with it, rather than twist it multiple times for fun....full text
PrettymuchamazingIt’s too much. It’s just too much. But then again, something’s missing. Maybe it’s not enough? False Priest, the latest offering from Of Montreal, is a paradox, an album that is simultaneously over- and underwhelming. It is a scattered record that seems cohesive. An album that is exquisitely produced, but hard on the ears. It’s bizarre and yet somehow predictable. And when it’s all over, it leaves me feeling much like the album itself – empty and unfulfilled.
Let’s talk about the good parts first. False Priest finds Kevin Barnes returning to real instruments for the first time in years– and thankfully turning the page on alter-ego Georgie Fruit – citing a “a thick R&B influence.” Barnes’ claims that False Priest is a “funky” album occasionally ring true; it’s certainly more organic than predecessors Skeletal Lamping and Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? And the space imagery often evoked by Funk isn’t too off-base here. Barnes’ voice and affections are so otherworldly at times that even guest spots from future-siren Janelle Monae seem down to Earth.
A lot of credit goes to Jon Brion, who takes a turn behind the knobs, only the second time in ten albums that someone other than Barnes has produced an Of Montreal record. You will be hard pressed to find a better produced album this year; sparkling treble and juicy bass are well balanced throughout. Brion lets Barnes use his natural instruments, voice stretching at times to reveal its raw core without seeming overblown. Brion brings with him guidance, and False Priest seems less haphazard, less caught up in the idea of being an album than Of Montreal’s recent releases. Rubbery bass licks thump in time with Barnes’ effeminate lounge-singer wail, giving some low end to what has historically been a keyed-up and high register outfit....full text
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