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Monday, September 06, 2010

Review: of Montreal: "False Priest"

In 2005, Kevin Barnes and of Montreal briefly flirted with the mainstream with the release of The Sunlandic Twins.  That album got them a lot of deserved attention.  And though each album since then has garnered much more commercial success, the music has taken a decidely non-mainstream turn.  Not that that's necessarily a terrible thing.  For as unfocused and schizophrenic as 2008's Skeletal Lamping was, it wound up being one of the group's most astonishing and endearing achievements.  False Priest picks up where Lamping left off, with Barnes once again calling upon his Georgie Fruit persona for inspiration.  Though less ambitious than its predecessor, False Priest is still a deserving addition to of Montreal's already stellar catalogue of music.

Like most of Montreal openers, "I Feel Ya Strutter" starts the album off with a bang!  The piano-led, upbeat pop song showcases what is likely to be the most divisive aspect of  False Priest, Barnes' heavy-reliance on falsetto singing.  Barnes has never had the least-annoying voice in indie pop, but hearing him wail in falsetto makes his voice even that much more polarizing.  As initially off-putting as it may seem, Barnes' embrace of this new-found liberation from vocal restraints makes the music even wilder and more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been.  On "Strutter" you can practically hear him singing off his shackles, and to great effect!  The song - about Barnes' realization that he is "blessed" to be with someone - finds its antithesis in the next track, "Our Riotous Defects" - a song about the crazy ex-girlfriend.  Its spoken-word verses are not new in the world of of Montreal, and neither is its conspicuous humor.  Kevin's reminiscing of the ex in question killing his beta fish as punishment for contradicting her in front of her friends is laugh out loud hilarious!  Janelle Monae joins in on the song's coda, sounding lovely, if not underutilized.

Intra-album genre-hopping has never really been of Montreal's strong point, but on False Priest they manage to arrange an eclectic array of tunes into a relatively cohesive whole.  Whether it's the unapologetic funk of "Hydra Fancies" or the smooth R&B sounds of "Enemy Gene," there are a lot of styles to take in here.  The former song is my personal favorite on the album, featuring one of False Priest's catchiest hooks and an absolutely infectious synth solo towards the end.  "Sex Karma" is equally as endearing and likely to be the album's second single.  Solange Knowles absolutely kills it on the song's chorus, going tit for tat with Barnes' sex-crazed persona and singing such memorable lines as"You look like playground to me, playa" and "I kiss you where I shouldn't be."  Also particularly brilliant is, "Coquet Coquette" - a great choice for the first single, as its easily the album's most "normal" , least-convoluted track. It's spanish guitars and catchy bassline make for repeatedly enjoyable song.

More often than not, of Montreal sounds more at ease with upbeat tunes than the more solemn songs.  The depressing "Casualty of You" is a complete dud; not because it's unexpected and seemingly out of place on an of Montreal record, but just because it's boring and unaffective.  of Montreal's "thing" in the last 5 years has been catharsis through pop music, but "Casualty" is a prime example of how to do that entirely wrong.  Likewise, album-closer (and awesomely-titled), "You Do Mutilate?" ends the album with Barnes in the pulpit.  His spoken-word sermon about respecting your fellow-man is admirable, to be sure, but it comes off as poor interpretation of a Michael Jackson acceptance speech and is no way to end an album.

But overall, False Priest is quite an enjoyable experience.  Kevin Barnes has never been one to play it safe, and False Priest is an excellent example of this.  Therefore, like all of Montreal albums, a listener has to go into it with an open mind.  While a lot of it may seem  too outlandish upon first listen; Barnes' unbelievable ability to craft memorable hooks from the most bizarre places will eventually win over the majority his detractors.  Though the album's greatness wavers towards its end, there is very little on False Priest that isn't at least slighty awesome.  It's a welcome addition to my of Montreal collection, and something I'll certainly be listening to for months.

Key Tracks:
1. "I Feel Ya Strutter"
2. "Our Rioutous Defects"
3. "Coquet Coquette"
4. "Hydra Fancies"
5. "Like a Tourist"

7 out of 10 Stars

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