Of Montreal, celebrating its fifteenth year together, is no stranger to change. Lead singer and main songwriter, Kevin Barnes, elaborated on their inevitable shift in style during an interview with The Stool Pigeon earlier this month, and compared marketed music to boxes of cereal. “People want you to taste the same every time they buy you; you become Frosted Flakes,” he said, continuing that, “people don’t want you to make dramatic changes or anything, ’cause they like the way Frosted Flakes taste.” If this is the case, then throughout the years of Montreal has completely altered their flavor, making dramatic changes with the release of just about every album.
Paralytic Stalks is no exception to this rule; in fact, if I may be so bold to say, this particular box of cereal completely redefines what their cereal is and means.
It all begins with the harsh and commanding opening track “Gelid Ascent,” which sets some of the main themes of the album—including a conglomerate of bleak spoken word, driving tempos, boasting choirs, futuristic riffs and a new addition to the band’s instrumentation altogether: an orchestra. Following is “Spiteful Intervention,” which embraces the band’s tendency of pairing depressing lyrics (“I spend my waking hours haunting my own life/ I made the one I love start crying tonight and it felt good”) with contrasting upbeat, happy sounding melodies.
The album continues on like this, with the constant shift between groovy and lethargic, beautiful and grim, and after a while, you get used to it, appreciating those dynamic changes for what they are. Some of the sounds are totally new for the band, like the floating flutes of “Malefic Dowery” and the multi-dimensional, requiem-like qualities of final song, “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission”, which is thirteen minutes long. Despite the stark differences between songs, they all fit together, creating one fluid mosaic.
Now it goes without saying that this album is…different. Kevin Barnes has been saying for months that this record came from, “a darker place,” and thus it cannot really even be compared to its predecessors. Kevin drew much inspiration for this album from Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz, which came out in 2010. In the Stool Pigeon interview, he said that Sufjan, “Encouraged me to try and make a record that was very personal and put myself in a more vulnerable position, as far as exposing my inner life [went].”
Like Age of Adz, there are parts of Paralytic Stalks that are simply too over-stimulating—the dense layers upon layers of strange instrumentals and haunting poetry and experimental sounds can get to be a little over-whelming, especially to the casual listener. You can’t go into this album expecting the glam, sex-pop of more recent False Priest and Skeletal Lamping, nor the playful, bouncy bliss of earlier albums Cherry Peel and Satanic Panic in the Attic. He has dropped his personas, his alter egos, his predisposition; this album is raw, true Kevin Barnes. And, in my opinion, it’s kind of genius.
WPGU Music Staff Rating: W-P-G-U
Key Tracks: “Malefic Dowery”, “Spiteful Intervention”, “Wintered Debts”, “Dour Percentage”.
RIYL: David Bowie, The Beach Boys, Sufjan Steven.