Far from 'lousy'

Of Montreal recalls ‘60s, ‘70s sounds with latest album

Long gone are the days of innocent, catchy pop from of Montreal. The band, hailing from Athens, Ga., released its 12th studio album, “Lousy with Sylvianbriar,” earlier this month. The record steers in an entirely different direction from that of 2005’s hit song “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games.” “Lousy” welcomes a return of the 1960s, literally — the band recorded its tracks on a 24-track tape machine in a home studio. Losing the crystal-clear sound of the group’s previous albums, this album also sacrifices purity and fluidity.

The record begins with the upbeat track “Fugitive Air,” which offers quirky but crass sexual innuendos on the surface, dishing out lines like, “They remove the oils from the eyes of street cats / Through some s***ty witchcraft / and apply it to their brows and genitalia.” But the song also hints at a deeper meaning as the lyrics comment, “I hope I never feel a terror like when you discovered your autonomy had flipped.” Questions of identity and character pervade the track, but the haphazardness of the lyrics seem to be more the result of lead singer Kevin Barnes’ attempt to recreate the late ‘60s and early ‘70s aesthetic by working on the album quickly and embracing spontaneity.

Unfortunately, this spontaneity doesn’t do much for the fluidity of the album, as right when upbeat, catchy tracks like “Fugitive Air” and “Belle Glade Missionaries” have you feeling ready to dance, a sappier, slow track follows. “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit,” one of the slower and more somber tunes, faces the weightiness of real-life issues. “Of your addictions and shiftiness/Inherited from your father/ I know you struggle to keep them in check/ But at this point why even bother,” the lyrics proceed, revealing the difficulties of addiction as the album transitions abruptly from the fast-paced “Belle Glade Missionaries.” That said, even this song hits on some dark, trying ideas. “They’re letting children get blown up in their schools today/ So they can get them back into their factories,” Barnes sings, addressing the snares of society through thematically shadowy and corrupt elements.

In the middle of the tracklist, of Montreal drops the album’s highest-selling track on iTunes, “She Ain’t Speakin’ Now,” which features heavy guitar and an explosive chorus. As Barnes cheerfully croons, “Girl with the flu, I hear the death rune/ She ain’t doin’ well” he juxtaposes the melody’s upbeat nature with the desolate future of this girl, as issues of incurable illness rise to the surface.

The impulsiveness of the musical elements, paired with the depth of the lyrical elements, makes for a unique album which is bound to be idolized by some and hated by others. Although the recording style sounds grainy and detracts from the clarity of the music, it is reminiscent of a bygone era, which seems to have been Barnes’ intent in crafting the album. Among the influx of popstars trying to win over crowds through shock factor, of Montreal’s artistic ambition of returning to a style from more than 40 years ago to gain momentum is respectable, and creates a vibrant, interesting compilation along the way.

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