Kevin Barnes has recently (I.e. the past few years) been going through a lot of traumatic stress, which was apparent though his theatrical character, Georgie Fruit, in Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer. So when the traumatised and weak man wished to flee from his troubles he turned to Mr. Fruit, the late forties black transvestite who has been through multiple sex changes. Is this metaphorically supposed to reflect Barnes? Because he isn’t black, he’s still in his youth, he isn’t a woman and on record, sounds quite the sex pest.
Skeletal Lamping, less of a concept album about Georgie Fruit than it’s predecessor, centres more around the secretive antics Barnes got up to at the peak of craziness of what he was suffering from. I also see the album’s tracks as a sort of timeline, starting from when he was angry and in a state of depression to when the fog was clear and the was no sign of crashing without headlights. Except there’s a twist, the timeline is backwards, so it goes from delightful pleasing music to grim SNM soundtrack like music - Starting energetically and ending feeling empty. This is one of the many pulsating characteristics that gave Skeletal Lamping such great atmosphere.
On False Priest, there are no long songs, no short songs. They’re all three or four minutes, the length of a single. This means there are no interlude type instrumentals that Of Montreal seem to pull off quite well. Nor are there any epic sprawling songs dragged out to length in double digits. It’s almost as if Barnes has purposefully stayed away from anything too risky. Maybe because of the mixed reception of Skeletal Lamping (Which personally, I loved to death). With Skeletal Lamping and Hissing Fauna, you felt you was with Barnes on his emotional journey every step of the way, mostly because of the intense songs like The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, Touched Something’s Hollow, Sink the Seine and No Conclusion. All of these are chaotic, climatic, intense, fierce and they are all either short or long.
The majority of the songs, in my opinion, seem very classic Of Montreal story telling, in terms of the way Barnes creates majestic alternate realities in a bedtime story style. For example, Girl Named Hello makes me think of the protagonist focused songs on The Gay Parade, the most underrated Of Montreal album. But the similarities are purely in the story telling, the beats on this album are incomparable to the poppy guitar strumming of The Gay Parade.
The album as a whole is very expansive and covers more genres than just Of Montreal’s normal body of chaotic jangly pop. I think I might have said how heartfelt Skeletal Lamping was in it’s own diverse sort of way, but False Priest is a gateway to Of Montreal’s vortex of love, or rather is Of Montreal’s vortex of love. But I know they can do better. Barnes’ voice has never been so prominent and protrusive than on some of these songs. His use of moulding and warping syllables to fit a line, or to make it rhyme is ecstatically brilliant and Barnes takes advantage of it well. This is obvious in Sex Karma, which would be an otherwise dull song if it wasn’t for the vocal use. And it wouldn’t have made any difference to the music if Solange and Janelle Monae didn’t feature on it. Jus’ Sayin’.
The lyrical content is very predictable and clichéd modern romance discussing light-hearted and meaningless topics like blogs. It comes off a little patronising. It’s not Of Montreal’s most clever work. But then there’s the simplicity and childlike charm of Famine Affair, which reminds me of their sweeter songs in their career like Suffer For Fashion or anything on Sunlandic Twins. Then there’s the song Casualty Of You, which is quite the contrary. It’s an eerie piano ballad similar to St. Exquisite’s Confessions, but with less visceral visuals.
Despite the album name referencing Hissing Fauna, there are no connections to the recent themes of Montreal have been setting, they’ve replaced themes with trends. I’m sure Kevin Barnes has escaped entirely into his own world and know longer confines to realism. And what happened to George Fruit?
A mention of Of Montreal’s albums before ‘Hissing Fauna’ has yet to be risen. That’s because at this point, a peak so high, it’s irrelevant. This album has been grown from blatant upbeat and crazy live shows, various other random extras, and just band member’s taste changes in music, not through albums and wanting to explore their current sound (which is what they’ve done for the past ten years). They want to explore new sounds. This is why the Skeletal Lamping sound was suddenly shocking and impressive. The electronic beats of Id Engager, the single we all heard before the release, were so immersive and so full of energetic vibes. I had a preconceived vision of what the album was going to sound like in my head, and it wasn’t like that. This is also the same with False Priest. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the veteran of Montreal fans think they might have reached the point of no return. The music is an inflated journey into commercial R&B.
Naturally, because I’m in love with Barnes, I feel it’s fair to blame this disappointment on the people who, didn’t exactly produce it, but put their voice forward. Jon Brion is the main culprit, who advised Barnes to replace the normal drums for synths and drum machines. I feel it would have been better keeping the classic drums because the work oh so well on Coquet Coquette. Although I love Brion for his soundtrack work, for which he’s scored a lot of my favourite films, and he does know what works, I think his radar was slightly off this time.
The jazz type drums at the beginning of Godly Intersex introduce a brilliant echo-y dance floor groove. And despite what I said about this being less of a jigsaw piece to Barnes’ life in compressed sound than Skeletal Lamping or Hissing Fauna, of course, this is Kevin Barnes, so there’s gonna be a little personal sprinkle on the album. This is the case with Godly Intersex. Enemy Gene is close to amazing. It’s very futuristic. As is the clash of 70s style choruses and fuzzy guitars and beats in Hydra Fancies. This is an album that I can see receiving a lot of remixes.
So the album isn’t the masterpiece I thought it was going to be. False Priest’s biggest flaw is the lack of variation. The fierce capacity that riddles previous releases has been wrongfully overlooked. The first single, Coquet Coquette, is the only song with proper, real pounding drums. In fact, the whole song is a genuine rock song, with pleasant but rough guitar riffs, a string of chorus and verses that lead up to a climax of epic proportions. It’s the most spacey Of Montreal have been. But I haven’t become addicted to ANY of the songs or overplayed any of them, like I have with all of their other instant classics. Some of the songs just don’t do anything for me. This especially applies to the closing track, You Do Mutilate?. It’s easily the worst song. As much as I hate to say this out loud, False Priest is a little disappointing. It just doesn’t have the impact that every single one of their other releases had. Overall, it is a great, classic Of Montreal album but without the character and emotion that made us fall in love with Of Montreal in the beginning. Don’t give up on it. Give it a lot of listens, I promise you will be rewarded.