Of Montreal channel funk on False Priest

The anticipation for Of Montreal’s latest release has been building inside of me ever since I was cruising their Wikipedia page at some point in 2009 and first saw that an album entitled False Priest was scheduled for release in 2010. Since then tidbits about the new album have been making their way onto buzz blogs and other outlets quite regularly. The one thing that all news leading up to the release has had in common is the narrative that this album is going to be something new for Of Montreal. As a fairly large fan of the band, the album being labeled as different seemed to actually be normative for front man Kevin Barnes’ work. Since his first releases in the late 90’s, the music coming out of Of Montreal has shifted from Beatles’ inspired, simple low-fi pop songs to the eclectic sounds of 2008’s Skeletal Lamping, while covering every style in between. But upon hearing the new record, I have to agree, and say that this album is definitely something “new” and “different” for Of Montreal.

The most noticeable change on False Priest, when compared to the rest of the band’s catalog, is in its production. Up until now, Of Montreal’s records have remained relatively low-fi. This is obvious on early releases such as Cherry Peel, but even as the group’s sound changed more towards an electronic one, the production valued remained low-fi with the entire album being put together in Kevin Barnes’ home studio. But now Barnes has split producing credits with Jon Brion, and the difference is very noticeable. Even within the first notes of the album, once can instantly appreciate the clean high-fi sound of False Priest. The bass is more full; the vocals are crisper, and the production value just plain suits the album.

The album also returns to a more traditional pop song structure that Skeletal Lamping abandoned in favor of a more eclectic approach to song writing. Along with this more traditional songwriting style, Barnes channels funk and R&B sounds for many of the albums tracks. The higher production value compliments these influences, making the bass lines more powerful and the danceable tracks songs even dancier. Also present are the wonderful guest vocals from both Janelle Monae and Beyonce’s younger sister Solange Knowles. In fact, the Solange featuring track “Sex Karma” is one of the finest tracks on the album. Of course the whole album isn’t just R&B songs: lead single “Coquet Coquette” is a straight forward rock track, while “Famine Affair” seems to be an Of Montreal take on New Wave.

Barnes’ vocals are also more interesting than ever, with an incredible amount of variance across the album. From moments of yelling, to soft whispers, to sections that verge on spoken word, Kevin Barnes’ is taking advantage of the higher production value to show off a wide range of vocal styles. The harmony and back vocals, which have become a trademark of Of Montreal records, are perhaps their best yet on False Priest. One of the most outstanding moments of the album is the slightly auto-tuned, mega-man reminiscent vocals in the chorus of “Like A Tourist.”

Overall, False Priest proves once again that Of Montreal remains one of the most interesting acts in music. Although the sounds may be vastly different from how the band first began, Kevin Barnes’ knows just what to change from album to album to keep his audience entertained 13 years after his first release.

WPGU Music Staff Rating: W-P-G-½
Key Tracks: “I Feel Ya Strutter”, “Sex Karma”, “Famine Affair”
Recommended if you like: Animal Collective, Islands, and Yeasayer.

W = Poor
W-P = Fair
W-P-G = Great
W-P-G-U = An instant classic!

ALSO: Check out Of Montreal’s performance at the Canopy Club on September 22nd as part of Pygmalion Music Festival.

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