HEADLINES

of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

There comes a time in every band’s life – assuming their span is an appropriate length – when the infamous breakthrough album occurs. To prepare for such an event, artists will go to great lengths in attempt to make said “groundbreaker” the most accessible possible. Whether through attitude, content, or mere presentation, many a group wrestle with how to present themselves to the bloodthirsty mainstream. For of Montreal, a band who has relished in a track record of over ten albums, this moment was reached with The Sunlandic Twins back in 2005. Whether you were familiar with the iconic album art or the BFFlulz bond between the outfit and Outback, this album brought the group into the limelight, thus solidifying their place in indie history.

Two years later, Barnes began performing under the moniker of Georgie Fruit, a transexual black funk rock artist, detailing his exploits and life through three albums and an EP: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, thecontrollersphere, Skeletal Lamping, and False Priest. Though this concept pleased their core fan base to no end, the mainstream began to treat the releases with less enthusiasm than before. The latter and most recent full-length emerged as a second attempt to catapult themselves back to commercial attention through features such as its guest appearances and easily read song titles. Although well-received by critics, the release didn’t accomplish the aforementioned goal intended. After this fling of an attempt, the group went back to their respective locales, and after a year or so, came out with an album that has broken ground far beyond anything in recent years.

The record of interest is Paralytic Stalks, the first release post-Georgie and post-second breakthrough. After getting so used to the homoerotic and soulful bantering of Mr./Ms. Fruit, I worried the absence of such a memorable entity would leave a similar hole in my heart. Luckily, the introspection of this beloved concept character was replaced by none other than Barnes’ own, proving to be a topic far more intriguing. Songs such as “Spiteful Intervention” and “We Will Commit Wolf Murder” are poetically, irrefutably Kevin Barnes partaking in his own internally cryptic battles of relationships and self-actualization. Matched against a seven-layer cake worth of instrumentals ranging from sporadic flutes (“Dour Percentage”) to vocal/reverb love affairs (“Gelid Ascent”), the lyrics make for a pleasantly ironic clash in comparison to the typically involved and optimistic instrumentals.

Reaching from inspiration which transcends prior releases, it is virtually foolish to attempt finger-pointing which album most aligns with Paralytic Stalks. Sure, it is reminiscent of the melodic fervor of Hissing Fauna or the funk-infused vocal bends of Skeletal Lamping, but listen to a track such as “Wintered Debts” with proper headphones, and what emerges is a song waist-deep in guitar layers, tempo variance, and an instrumental break flirting on the edge of being a full blown orchestra piece. Unlike anything prior, but still pulling inspiration from the cream of their catalogue, of Montreal has constructed an album more original and inventive since – dare I say it – Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies: A Variety of Whimsical Verse.

Although many of the tracks fit into the prior description, a couple stood out completely on their own, refraining from gathering the slightest help from their past (or any artists’, for that matter). Placing an eerily discordant choir against both horror-worthy strings and dark lyricism in the penultimate “Exorcismic Breeding Knife” gives off vibes akin to alignments such as Werner Herzog and David Lynch. The dark nature of the track is fairly unexpected, but when a track can shift one’s mood from giddy to uneasy in a matter of minutes, pats on the back are in order. Another example is “Wintered Debts,” which teeters on the fine line of accessibility. At times it is one of the more pop-driven tracks, but then digresses into an obscurity of a roughly two minute orchestral sweep. The inability to put a finger on what exactly is being heard is a trademark of the group, and is a breath of fresh air to see this quality back in full force.

Overall, Paralytic Stalks breathes fresh air into an outfit that has yet to even lose their collective gusto. With the addition of Zac Cowell’s flute, the end of Georgie Fruit, and a breathtaking sound track by track, this newest effort ushers in an entirely new and exciting era for the group. Continuing their tradition of pigeonhole refusal, of Montreal has presented one of their best works to date, etching another mark in a catalog of memorable works.

★★★★½ 

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