Of Montreal: False Priest Review (Four Takes)
John G (Radio K)
On their last album, Skeletal Lamping, of Montreal unleashed their flamboyant alter-frontman Georgie Fruit. On False Priest, Georgie continues to run amok and the result is a fun, emotional album that delivers lots of glamorous pop hooks and falsettos.
The band is not looking to reinvent themselves here, choosing instead to extend their Skeletal Lamping focus with melodies that lodge themselves in your brain and lyrics that flit between genius and nonsensical.
The album establishes the mood immediately with the opener Feel Ya Strutter, a sparkling pop piece about Georgie picking up a girl way out of his league. “I got so lucky with you, I feel ya strutter I got so lucky with you” he explains in a high falsetto over a beat that’s half disco and half hip-hop.
The band jumps from one carefully constructed piece of pop to the next, and while the standouts are amazing, the relentless focus on creating sugary gems makes the album feel a bit long towards the end. Songs like A Girl Named Hello and Casualty of You feel too similar to the fare that came before and they could have easily been removed.
That is not to take away from what of Montreal has managed to do on this album, which is construct an incredibly catchy and fun piece that is so polished you can practically see it sparkle. Some of the standouts include the aforementioned Feel Ya Strutter, Crazy Girl, Coquet, Coquette, and Enemy Gene.
Mike Watton (Haunted House)
I have a number of problems with Of Montreal. Maybe at the top of that list is lead poseur Kevin Barnes’ tendency to use rock chiefly as a vehicle to show the world that he’s clever and that he’s in love with his quirky personality. Barnes could have saved himself, his bandmates and the world a great deal of time if he had just driven to B.B. King’s house and punched him in the face. Hard. It’s not a matter of lacking old-timey rock energy, or of being too weird. The annals of music is littered with bands who have made great albums without stumbing on those issues. Of Montreal simply lack anything resembling soul. They define how boring rock can be. They keep me up at night wondering why people don’t demand more from bands. It’s fine that their music is wimpy. It’s not impossible to make a great rock album while waving a stuffed kitten in the listener’s face. But the hand holding that kitten absolutely has to be made of granite. In the case of “False Priest,” the hand is a piñata filled with urine. The fact that this band had the nerve to cover Royal Trux’s classic track “Back To School” a couple years back will haunt me to my grave. The more pretenses they put on about being arty or strange the further they get from being anything anyone should be legally allowed to listen to.
Kevin Barnes seems to be on a mission to become the George Clinton of indie rock. Not only has his group Of Montreal consistently stepped up the funk over the years, they have also started to personify the famous Clinton quote “Funk is fun. And it’s also a state of mind.” It’s a mindset Barnes and company had begun to embrace with 2007’s Hissing Fauna, and by this year’s False Priesthave fully come to accept. This isn’t just indie rock stabs at funkiness – its full immersion into a bizarre, bass throbbing, synth pounding, rainbow colored world. It’s a world that Barnes has chosen to navigate in the guise of a young man who over the course of False Priest experiences all the highs and lows of heartache – with a heavy slice of sexual sadism to make things more interesting. Mostly the new record works, even if Barnes’ highly literate wordiness and bizarre left turns occasionally annoy, a fact that Barnes neatly sums up in the “Hydra Fancies” line: “it’s hard to deal with my dementia and stuff”. Indeed.
Guest vocalist Janelle Monae is unsurprisingly a fantastic influence in standout “Enemy Gene,” and basically everything from “Coquet Coquette” to “Famine Affair” is tremendous. False Priest also turns out what is, for me, perhaps the most poignant lyric of the year in “Enemy Gene’s” question: “How can we ever evolve when our Gods are so primitive?” Of course not much later Barnes gleefully yells “female erection!” so one occasionally wonders if such high-minded philosophy was intentional. Still, good, bad, bizarre, there is enough crammed into False Priest to keep me interested, I think, for a long time.
I was a little disappointed when Kevin Barnes switched up his style for the album Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer? I thought his sun kissed, garage psychedelica of Gay Parade was really amazing stuff, but I came around to the new sound when I unpacked the album and now find it to be one of my favorite records by the group. Unfortunately the Prince meets Bowie backed by a P-Funk geared electronic orchestra sound of the last three albums has worn thin over time. Their last album, Skeletal Lamping, was a record that felt slightly pretentious to me, and the new album False Priest pretty much jumps the shark. The first run through was interesting, with the slinky music and Kevin Barnes witty, if slightly self absorbed, lyrics providing some smile inducing moments. The subsequent listens proved less fruitful, even when accompanied by hipster queen bee Janelle Monae and pop royalty Solange Knowles, who have become foils/mainstream cheerleaders for the group on their 10th album. The highlight for me is the funky and funny “Our Riotous Defects,” which find Barnes and crew in tip top form, going from spoken word verses to a bombastic chorus of Barnes singing about a “crazy girl.” The song shows how, at their best, the band can combine incendiary music with Frank Zappa like content that is so wild and smart that you can’t help but smile and laugh. Unfortunately most of the album feels forced and too thought out, and I can’t help but feel that this phase of Barnes musical growth has finally run its course. I, for one, wouldn’t be disappointed with Gay Parade II.
Download the single “Coquet Coquette” from their website.