of Montreal’s latest effort finds band-leader Kevin Barnes exploring the darkest recesses of his mind with able accompaniment from old and new contributors. Traipsing across genre boundaries, Paralytic Stalks is impossible to compartmentalise, displaying elements of psychedelia, chamber music, electronica, rock and pop in addition to the assorted ephemera that accompanies any project helmed by Barnes. An approximation of the sound of the album would be the noise made by The Beatles being pushed down a flight of stairs by early Animal Collective (QRO album review) and their accomplice BQE-era Sufjan Stevens (QRO live review). This is complex, unconventional indie pop backed by an array of session musicians contributing violin, brass and woodwind parts.
Representative of this diversity is standout track “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff”, which manages, in its eight-minute running time, to include a strong but disarmingly straightforward rock number that gradually morphs into a grandiose neo-classical piece. The sequencing of this album is impressive, with tracks flowing smoothly into each other. The sounds contained within, though, are often jarring, as the group experiments constantly with song-structure and the patience of the listener. The glimpse of relative simplicity within “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” makes it hard not to miss the modest pop pleasures of “Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games” or the group’s stripped-down acoustic take on “We Were Born the Mutants Again”, songs from earlier albums.
While the obvious talent of the of Montreal contributors impresses, as does the dexterity with which these songs have been assembled, its difficult to really enjoy beyond an intellectual level. These tracks never engage the primal portion of the human brain that involuntary causes feet to tap and bodies to move. Contributing to this mental disconnect is Barnes vocal work…
As has become the norm for of Montreal, Barnes again indulges in dictionary-swallowing lyrics that always manage to impress on sheer breadth of knowledge alone. The litany of bad behaviour and self-doubt, however, which Barnes expounds on throughout the course of the album reaches a point where the listener is forced to ask, to what end? Is he looking for absolution? Because he dwells on his worst attributes, replaying his own insecurities at length, the impression of Barnes the listener is left with is of a self-obsessed egotist. No doubt this is inaccurate, but his inability to step back from the precipice of self-loathing and to take stock becomes frustrating and boring. Listening to the psychic scream of another can be interesting but it isn’t much fun.
The album concludes without any substantive resolution to his recurrent issues though this is perhaps understandable given the intractable problems Barnes seems to be wrestling with. What the listener is left with then is a collection of introspective, navel-gazing numbers lodged within uncommonly expansive instrumental arrangements. There is so much ambition in Paralytic Stalks that it’s impossible not to respect or even admire what of Montreal have achieved but it is difficult to love.
MP3 Stream: “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff“