Album Review: of Montreal – "False Priest"

Kevin Barnes and company are back with another album full of arty, psychedelic tunes. This time out they have employed the help of producer Jon Brion to bring us 13 over the top tracks that showcase an affinity for funk and soul music that mixes well with the band’s penchant for writing quirky pop tunes.

of Montreal is one of those bands that is not satisfied sitting still from album to album. Their sound changes and grows as they continue to explore new territory. “False Priest”, their most recent release (out September 14, 2010 on Polyvinyl), positions them as a pop-funk band with falsetto vocals and thumping bass lines as the centerpieces for their brand of arty rock. There is still the usual layered production and complex songwriting that fans of the band have come to expect throughout the years, as well as a pronounced use of infectious melodies and catchy pop hooks placed liberally throughout. The songs fill a lot of space, but they don’t wander off schizophrenically as a lot of the tracks in 2008’s “Skeletal Lamping” did. Where “Skeletal Lamping” comes off as fractured and a seeming experiment in song form, “False Priest” is lean and solid with a clear trajectory from beginning to end.

The songs on this release seem more able to be used as singles, and “Coquet Coquette” has already popped up on Youtube with an official video as well as being featured on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The song features a sparse verse with a driving bassline that moves into a chorus that explodes with timpani and the crunch of guitars. It is least like any of the other songs on “False Priest” but it is most like previous of Montreal work. Like I said before, this is not a band that is afraid to try new things, but there is always a basis for their branching out. There is a gradual and methodical evolution at work.

Several new elements were added to the process of producing this album, not the least of which was Jon Brion who took the songs that were apparently already finished when Kevin Barnes brought them into the studio and improved upon them. Percussion and strings were added and an all around larger and cleaner sounding album are the result of Brion’s studio wizardry. The inclusion of Janelle Monáe’s voice on “Our Riotous Defects” and “Enemy Gene” and Solange Knowles’ on “Sex Karma” gives the album more of an authentically soulful vibe.

The album remains focused on the psych-funk aesthetic rather than exploring the Georgie Fruit alter-ego that first appeared on 2006’s fantastic “Hissing Fauna, are you the Destroyer?” and continued to allow Barnes to get his Ziggy Stardust on all over “Skeletal Lamping”. Though we are not too far separated from those albums. After all the title for this release is taken from the same lyric that gave us “Skeletal Lamping”. The bass has been playing an increasingly central role in recent of Montreal albums and this time out it is truly the driving force and foundation to many of the songs. In addition to the ultra-funky bass lines is a slightly heavier dependence on synths that are layered throughout.

of Montreal

“I Feel Ya Strutter” is an energetic and funky dance tune that starts the album off on the right foot. Similar territory is covered on tracks like “Godly Intersex” with its trippy psych-rock verse and its grooving, multitracked vocals in the chorus. It is amazing what Kevin Barnes can do with his voice from song to song. One second he is singing like Prince in a pitch perfect and ear piercing falsetto and the next he is growling in a husky tone, or sweetly duetting  with Janelle Monáe on “Enemy Gene”. On “Sex Karma”, a duet with Solange Knowles, we are treated to 4 minutes of funk-pop perfection. Knowles’ voice in the chorus works perfectly with Barnes’.

The connecting of songs ala “Skeletal Lamping” is present to a very small degree when “Sex Karma” flows directly into “Girl Named Hello”, which features the standout lyric: “If I treated someone else the way I treat myself, I’d be in jail”.

It’s not all funk and psychedelia. of Montreal branches out on tracks like “Famine Affair”, which sounds like  it was lifted straight from a Cars album, that give us our only chance to hear the guitars turned up all the way, driving us through a nice loud and straight ahead chorus. There is some strange lyrical content explored on “Like a Tourist” with a chorus that reaches up to the stratosphere and also has some driving straight ahead rock tossed off for the verses. The end of the album features some of the most eclectic material, though still funky and bass driven “Around the Way” is a little bit darker than anything else here and the album closer “You Do Mutilate?” seems like something left over from the last album in that it seems to be 2 or 3 songs stitched together. This track truly ends on a strange tone, but anyone that is a fan of the band’s previous work will not be surprised by this kind of change towards the end of the album. Things reach a similar breaking point on “Hissing Fauna….” after the 11 minute turning point track “The Past is a Grotesque Animal”, the only difference being that this track closes the album.

“False Priest” is of Montreal’s best work to date. They continue to be one of the most exciting acts to follow in the indie scene and continue to grow in popularity, and show no sign of stopping or even slowing down. In fact they just released information, before the release of this album, regarding an EP, “The Controller Sphere” (whose title also comes from the same lyric in “Faberge Falls for Shuggie” from the “Hissing Fauna…” album, and was also considered as a title for this album) which will be released before the end of the year. All the music they are creating, combined with their live shows that are an ever evolving exercise in dadaism and political commentary really point to the fact that of Montreal is one of the most significant and creative acts around today.

Catch of Montreal on tour. Trust me, it will be one of the best shows you have ever seen.

One thought on “Album Review: of Montreal – "False Priest"”

  1. Wow…this whole album sounds amazing to me..mainly because I’m a huge fan of Jon Brion. In some ways, it seems a bit of an odd pairing but in other ways it seems like it could work perfectly with Brion’s way of layering music and making the simplest chord progression seem grandiose in a great way.

    Thanks for piquing my interest! Awesome Janelle Monae makes an appearance too!