Polyvinyl Records, 2020
Review by Kent Manthie
So, yeah, I just had to write the review, below, for of Montreal’s 2018 White Relic/Irrealis Mood because it was just so blissed-out and completely original compared to the typical contemporary, radio-friendly, banal pop-rock. Compared to the previous few of Montreal albums, White Relic/Irrealis Mood is like, for mainman/frontman & songwriter, Kevin Barnes, starting fresh, after some depressing times, going through the frustration, alienation and bitterness, which Barnes documented for all on most of the music on of Montreal albums going as far back as Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer?, which, by Barnes’s design, gets all up in Kevin’s personal life. The “Destroyer” was Nina, from whom he had, at first, separated for a time, spent a season in Norway, which, though maybe intended as a means to get away from the hell of it all, but, unfortunately, it didn’t quite turn out that way, and you can hear about it here and there, on Hissing Fauna. Kevin did return feeling down. It wasn’t just Norway, it the razor-sharp feeling of separating from a love; the initiation of the trauma which was to plague him, on and off, for the next decade.
This is one reason, no doubt, that Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer, despite it’s ultra-rich grooves, unforgettable vivid imagery and the layers upon layers of lyrics that lend themselves to interpretations of all types, was, at heart, a kind of “fuck you” album, full of vitriol and anger. Some examples include “Suffer For Fashion”, “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse”, “She’s a Rejecter” and the album’s masterpiece,”The Past is a Grotesque Animal”, a haunting, 12-minute track which is, as the title suggests, an exorcism, of sorts, of the past few years that seemed to be predestined to end up in pain, misery and disgust. The beats on the song are a repetitive, droning drum machine that, fits well; an understated, steady throb to augment but not collide with the Barnesian lyrics, that swanky sound, so suave, so stylish but with a just-below-the-surface bubbling cauldron of anger and resentment, nearing the boiling point. So, the point of White Relic/Irrealis Mood was to capture, on record, the pulsating, mesmerizing bright lights and sonic euphoria (you have to supply your own light show, though). Each song has a split personality, so to speak, that is, there are two titles for each cut, e.g., “Paranoiac Intervals/Body Dysmorphia”, “Writing the Circles/Orgone Tropics” and Sophie Calle Private Game/Everybody is a Pussy, Every Pussy is a Star!”. While there’s a groove throughout which shows a more contented Kevin, one who is enjoying life much more now and has a charming, new love, the album is also filled with venom, bile and vitriol that show the resentment and the horror of the national nightmare that is easy to identify: Drumpf. No doubt, the absolute WORST president EVER in American history. Drumpf makes Warren Harding seem like a wise, deliberative statesman; a fallen, tragic hero. Even the venal hypocrite, Andrew Johnson who was also impeached and in that case, there’s absolute proof that the one vote which kept Johnson from being kicked out of office was bought and paid for by Johnson and/or his supporters, although you’d probably have to hold your nose, Johnson could be…no, no, no; forget that thought. As bad as Drumpf is, Andrew Johnson really was the worst president. But those were different times. Different things happening (a civil war had just ended; Reconstruction was just beginning, slaves were now free- unfortunately, the black man is still not getting blind justice and it’s been over 150 years!!).
OK, so on to UR FUN. This time, around, Barnes rides a wave of euphoric, high-toned party time without the hand-wringing about the state of the lack of leadership or any responsible people in positions of power. Barnes takes it to a level of pop-psychosis, whimsical lyrical binging and hook-infested, high-gear indie-pop and, the more you listen, the more metaphors you get, the more references you hear, e,g,, in “Polyaneurism” there’s a quick reference to 1982’s obscure cult classic, Liquid Sky. It shows that Barnes is in love, not only with Christina but with life, with style, and is looking ahead, with rose-colored shades on.
Barnes, while writing White Relic mentioned that he had “finally forgiven himself for his failed marriage” and that he was letting go of past self-abuse, he’s focusing his energy on, one, making the best music he can and two, working on the new love that’s germinated and taken root and is already growing, ready to bloom in the form of Christina Schneider, herself, of Locate S,1. UR FUN finds Barnes and his new love in a state of blossoming bliss and as things gel, their love, though constantly growing, also finds a plateau-phase, i.e., it’s gone from awkward beginnings to a full-on romance, where their being together seems to have gotten to a comfort zone for each party.
With songs like the aforementioned “Polyaneurism”, a tune that will, no doubt, end up on your “party playlist”; “Get God’s Attention By Being An Atheist”, a raucous, rock-glam-neo-noir-disco jam that lays Barnes’s simple theology right out there for all to get naked and dance to. Also great is the infectious “Don’t Let Me Die in America”, with its listing off a number of cities throughout the US that Kevin, well…wouldn’t be caught dead in. Then, towards the end, he starts listing a bunch of cities in foreign lands in which he wouldn’t mind dying. Two other I’ll mention here include “St. Sebastian” and “Deliberate Self-Harm Ha Ha”, more stuff that Kevin Barnes writes, sings and plays with his by-now all-too-familiar, manic self-abandon.
Don’t look for patterns or any kind of concept or hidden meanings and such. Just take UR FUN at face value and enjoy it for what it is, i.e., what you see/hear is, indeed, what you get! –KM.