Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Review: Of Montreal - False Priest

False Priest, the tenth album by Kevin Barnes' technicolour troupe, can be considered as the third album from this current phase of Of Montreal, lifting its title, as with 2008's Skeletal Lamping, from a lyric contained in the band's 2007 near-masterpiece Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?. Promising a more R'n'B, bass-heavy sound this time around, and featuring contributions from Solange Knowles and critical darling Janelle Monáe, False Priest is in truth no great deviation from the band's recent work, but those deterred by Skeletal Lamping's schizophrenic tendencies may find the slightly more reined-in (by Of Montreal standards) False Priest to be a little more palatable.

On Skeletal Lamping, track names and divisions seemed little more than a suggestion; the album could've been divided up any number of ways, or just left as a single hour-long head-f*ck. On False Priest, most of the 13 cuts actually resemble stand-alone, fully-realised songs, although that's not to suggest that they're not packed to the rafters with the usual hysterics and histrionics. Yet whilst Skeletal Lamping, for all its critics, was rife with hooks, False Priest in comparison feels just a little short-changed in that respect, and for all the work and sonic details that Barnes has put into the album, there's not really much to come away with.

Barnes himself is a factor of his own downfall. His increasingly grating falsetto, coupled with his endless vocal overdubbing, and overly-verbose wordplay, reach new heights on False Priest, all too often suffocating the sounds of his fellow bandmates. Even with that aside, there are a couple of limp efforts here, particularly in the middle third; the soggy Hydra Fancies squelches along with no great purpose, and Girl Named Hello sees Barnes repeating "If I treated someone else / the way I treat myself / I'd be in jail", with diminishing effect, over an endlessly recycled indie-funk track which is fast becoming Of Montreal's stock in trade.

When Barnes throttles it back a bit in the latter third though, the rest of the band raise their game too.  Famine Affair is a surprisingly straightforward slice of 80's pop, made fun by Barnes' sulking ("go 'way, go 'way/ / you're a bad thing"). The morbid piano ballad of Casualty Affair sees Kevin Barnes laid bare (no, not like the notorious Las Vegas incident); "It's not fair / it shouldn't be like this/ you shouldn't be so compulsed" he cries, and then sighes "I dunno..../you should be more....awkward". That's followed by Around The Way, an edgy piece of synthpop that recalls Bowies Ashes To Ashes. First single Coquet Coquette is a success too, it's combination of Kinksy guitars and a galavanting chorus an appealing blend.

What of the guest appearances? Well, Solange Knowles is wasted on Sex Karma, trying and failing to out-diva Kevin Barnes. Far more successful is Monae, her suave delivery on Enemy Gene providing one of the more memorable choruses here.

There's much to enjoy about False Priest - I still haven't grown tired or Barnes' hilarious monologue on Our Riotous Defects - and Of Montreal continue to occupy an indie-sphere entirely their own. But Kevin Barnes has to draw inspiration from elsewhere next time; the arty love-damaged soul schtick is becoming increasingly thin and disingenuous.

P.S. David Barnes' psychotic artwork is, as ever, amazing.

Listen to if you like: MGMT, Phoenix, Memory Tapes

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