Of Montreal Of MontrealFalse Priest
Kevin Barnes definitely works like a pendulum. While “The Sunlandic Twins” (2005) was the most perfect and illuminating thing that he could have put out at that stage of his career, “Skeletal Lamping” (2008) caused an unexpected current of lukewarm reviews, because he had let himself get carried away by his internal tide. And the thing is that if you do it badly, blending electro glam with music hall (at times) and R&B and funk (now) can get you what many considered to be a vain pastiche with unpredictable, unnecessary changes in direction ( “Skeletal Lamping”), or a just plain glam that claims to sound modern (etc.) So if we add Barnes’ ineffable personality to it, with his tics and gestures, and his unusual idea of aesthetics—not to mention a rich interior world ( in video) that bubbles up at the least opportunity– and we are forced to reach an agreement: this guy is a saint.
So, the long and winding roads of experimentation have led Barnes to do with a falsetto and a vocoder what we do when we play sports with a significant other: let the other win. For its texture, its polychromatic quality, because he dares to do it, “False Priest” is the necessary drop after getting over the hump. And starting now (it’s clear) we catch a glimpse of the later acceleration of an interesting proposal that is light years away from his fellow classmates. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but Mika is the transparent version of Of Montreal. Apples In Stereo are the fun-loving, insubstantial version; Prince and The Jackson Five (even) are too big to be placed where Barnes has put them. Is it playing dirty, or is it a coquettish wink? Because the gayest Queen rubs elbows with Mika in “I Feel Ya' Strutter”; because there are glimmers of the Pet Shop Boys (from the 80’s) in the arrangements of “Godly Intersex”, and Barnes flies over them with his Bowie voice (falsettos apart). And what about the song “Sex Karma” , which we could easily classify as “black music” (and with Solange Knowles, Beyoncé’s little sister, included in the pack)? Excuse me: isn’t “Sex Karma” the peak of what Robbie Williams wanted to do in “ Rudebox” (if he could ever hold a candle to an ordinary artist)?
I’m not trying to unduly associate Of Montreal with lower-class creatures, but for me it’s a clear example of how to manage to incorporate R&B fluids and part of the gravity given off by Prince’s body and not look ridiculous. That is to say: to hit the nail on the head in terms of both quality and forms (doesn’t “Enemy Gene”, with the incorporation of Janelle Monáe, who could be Prince’s secret daughter, seem like a (slightly more) serious cover of any song by Apples In Stereo? The guitar firmness of “Famine Affair” (does anyone get a whiff of The Cure there?) or the acoustic counterpoint for Barnes’ voice in “Coquet Coquette” makes two great songs that hold their own along with vocoders in space melodies ( “Like a Tourist”, slightly similar to the sounds of Wendy Carlos), out-of-fashion, but equally charming synthesisers ( “Our Riotous Defects,” also with Janelle Monáe), or the carnal Funk vs. Vocoder battle of “Hydra Fancies”. (One question: does Barnes’ voice really come out like that?)
For people who are still looking for something more, we should mention the album’s only attempt to perform moderately, “Casualty of You”, which ends up predictably like 70’s Bowie, and “You Do Mutilate?”, almost an experiment that reminds us that many will try to seem like Of Montreal, but none of them will have Barnes’ lethal lyrical mordacity, as long as he sings what at first sight seemed to be a few harmless, effeminate electro-glam songs, but which are really cynical, disturbing messages full of anxiety, with a look that gives them added value rather than taking away from their foundation. Jordi Guinart