Of Montreal – False Priest

Very recently, Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal began working with Janelle Monae and Solange on a couple of songs that would eventually make their way to this album. Now considering Of Montreal’s characteristic eclecticism and flexibility, this wouldn’t seem like much of a point of worry. The funny thing is that you can pick any song at random from False Priest and you might think Monae had a hand in writing it. Most of False Priest is very R&B- and soul-influenced, almost as much as it’s faithfully flamboyant. Barnes certainly won’t have any trouble fitting in once he goes on tour with Miss Monae, that’s for sure.

Strangers and hard-core fans won’t find much to quibble about in this uncharacteristically bassy album: most songs are nuanced, upbeat, and its perplexing hooks are oddly alluring. “Hydra Fancies” veers off seamlessly into multiple verses with the whimsy that Barnes’s interviews suggest he can’t get enough of. “Coquet Coquette” sounds like a Satanic Panic in the Attic b-side, demonstrating the band’s adherence to their The Beatles/Queen-inspired history. Barnes has a knack for catchy and he rarely falters on this release, at least not until the handful of misses he stuffs in at the end, like the “go for broke with nothing to go on” “Around the Way.”

However, False Priest fails to function as one coherent piece. Sequence seems irrelevant and if there’s any uniting theme, it’s Barnes’s insistence on singing to a woman. “Don’t treat me like a tourist,” he demands in “Like a Tourist.” “You look like a playground to me” he flatters in “Sex Karma.” “You’re a bad thing, miserable thing” he condemns in the dance rock “Famine Affair.” Those who are going in expecting another Hissing Fauna will be severely disappointed, if not utterly flabbergasted. In fact, flabbergasted, I would say, is the perfect adjective to use. The word’s presumptuous; it’s long-winded; it’s remorselessly lurid; its very sound is innately giggle-inducing. The word is a jigsaw piece that satisfies every facet I could possibly desire to fill in describing False Priest. “Flabbergasted,” not only the perfect word to describe first reactions to False Priest, is also the album’s parallel by definition.

If you thought that analysis of mine was a bit exaggerated or pretentious, then perfect, because that’s exactly what I was going for. And exactly what Barnes was aiming for as well, I’m sure. In fact, that’s always been Of Montreal’s schtick, even reigning from their The Gay Parade days. Their songs (and their live performances) are like extravagant light shows, with Barnes’s audacious falsetto chiming in from a million places at once and all converging around your ears. The spoken-word sequence in “Our Riotous Defects” is evidence enough that Barnes aims for outrage more than depth; he accuses his girl of being crazy for killing his beta fish after he “contradicted” her in front of his friends; later, he expresses that her cold-heartedness was undeserved after he made so many sacrifices for her, like supporting her “stupid little blog” and buying a Bowflex. The whole transaction is much too comical to be unintentional. Remember, this is the guy that walks out on stage dressed entirely in shaving cream. Levity makes Of Montreal.

Therein lies the most divisive aspect of this album, and in effect of Of Montreal themselves. Most criticisms you could possibly levy against False Priest (excluding those pertaining to pacing or sequence) stem from the nuances that have always defined Of Montreal: the fluttering melodic phrases, the voluminous bombast, the multi-layered “Bohemian Rhapsody” vocal harmonies. They’re all traces of Of Montreal’s delicate pedigree, one that’s meticulous and complex, yet never too self-laudatory to skew the band’s “Let’s just have some fun” philosophy. The whole “soul” angle is just another game to Barnes and he is hell-bent on playing it.

by Mason “That cover, it’s flabbergasting!” McGough

1 Comment

  1. Good Morning Mr. Edminton! « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Of Montreal – False Priest, by Mason McGough […]

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