Lousy With Sylvanbriar
Polyvinyl Records, 2013
Review by Kent Manthie
Kevin Barnes & Co. are back. This time with a new, mellowed down CD, entitled Lousy With Sylvanbriar. The tunes are smooth, groovy, laid back, a slight change from the whimsical wildness of Skeletal Lamping, or Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer. Still, though, there is a lot of the core of what O.M. is all about – many time changes, the same creative crucible of dada style lyrics and a wild self-expression.
The song “Belle Grade Missionaries”, for instance, is a catchy, toe-tapping, sing-along. It still has the typical surrealist lyrics and circus-like atmospherics that are the essence that of Montreal stand by. There are guitars and an organ featured very well on “Belle Grade Missionaries”, it fades out at the end with a sexy Rickenbacker-like guitar solo, with an undercurrent of an organ shimmering in the background.
After this one, “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” is a down-tempo, quiet yet (in of Montreal’s own way), it’s got its own complexities. What I mean is that it’s not just Kevin singing and playing an acoustic guitar or a piano, but a panoply of instruments chiming in and out, such as a cello, organ, synthesizers and other various cosmic sounds. “Colossus” is also a little on the mellow side, but not syrupy or hokey, but, as with the album in general, a unique, psychedelic-tinged album. It’s nice to see that of Montreal has not remained static in their musical output. Just for example, look back to 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic through the album that saw them shifting into a more whimsical outfit, Sunlandic Twins, in 2005, through their funky, musical interpretation of Magritte, Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer? (2007), which was followed by an EP also released in 2007, Icons Abstract Thee, which was a continuation of the ecstasy-filled romp of Hissing Fauna… Then with the release of 2008’s Skeletal Lamping, a sexually charged escapade of kaleidoscopic proportions of Montreal seemed to have hit their peak. I say “peak” because False Priest, which, when I first received it I enjoyed all right, but it didn’t take too long for it to, so to speak, run out of steam. It had its moments, but I think False Priest was made under impossible circumstances, such as, maybe they were trying too hard to come up with something that could top the theatrical, androgynous album that really spoke to a generation of youth who were alienated, felt trapped in a box and who detested labels of any kind. Not only that, but it was one hell of a great album, musically. It was completely unique and there was nothing to whom I could compare it to. Also, who knows, what was going on, personally, in the lives of Kevin Barnes and other band members, stuff that can affect artistic creativity and the sense of being on the cutting edge. Anyway, after False Priest came and went, of Montreal put out an EP in 2011, thecontrollersphere which was a sort of apology for the downer of False Priest, but which didn’t get very much notice, although it was a brilliant, yet short re-tooling of their “sound”.
Last year (2012) of Montreal put out Paralytic Stalks, which did produce a “hit” of sorts, “Dour Percentage”, which made its rounds on “modern rock” radio stations and then disappeared as quickly. I even remember seeing them as the musical guest on Jimmy Fallon’s late night talk show, performing “Dour Percentage”. I must admit, that,while Paralytic Stalks had it’s moments, it, too, wasn’t a great album. After this album had been out for a time, it really didn’t click with me the way the three albums after Satanic Panic in the Attic came out (Hissing Fauna…, Icons Abstract Thee (EP) and Skeletal Lamping) did.
But now, with the release of Lousy With Sylvanbriar, of Montreal redeemed themselves with a great album, one that, indeed, was catchy and captivating, from beginning to end. Songs like “Amphibian Days”, “Triumph of Disintegration” and “Raindrop in my Skull” are just a few samples of the great, seamless way this album erases the mistakes of the past but it doesn’t go backwards, to recapture the greatness of those mid-career days, but it takes the good elements of them and adds present and future sounds that are brilliantly put together and by the end of the album, you’re just not ready for it to end.
Now that we have this great new album out to celebrate, I can put Skeletal Lamping away for a bit, while I focus on Lousy With Sylvanbriar, which will have my full attention for a time. -KM.