Newest of Montreal album ‘overblown mess’

Theatricality overshadows pop in latest effort

Music Reviewer
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"Paralytic Stalks" CODY'S SCORE: 39/100
Make no mistake: of Montreal front man and songsmith Kevin Barnes can be an excellent songwriter. Yet his propensity for theatrics, eccentricity and flamboyance has overshadowed and perhaps even derailed the Athens-based indie pop group’s most recent releases.

While Skeletal Lamping and False Priest certainly contained moments of unalloyed pop brilliance, both ultimately could be seen as missed opportunities – the songs were there, but in a sea of genre-bending, theatrics and abrupt melodic shifts, Barnes’ contrived eccentricity marred their potential.

On the group’s tenth release Paralytic Stalks, Barnes drops the vaudevillian theatrics, but only amplifies the other defects of the band’s most recent releases.

Clocking in at just over 58 minutes, Paralytic Stalks, while not the band’s longest release, is certainly their most taxing. The nine pieces on the album are engulfed in a bizarre amalgamation of neo-psychedelia, funk, alternative country and most interestingly minimalist, classical. Barnes takes no shame in drawing liberally from each.

On the piece “Wintered Debts,” he swiftly transitions from an alternative country introduction to a mass of droning, atmospheric strings a la Steve Reich.

The album is easily Barnes’ most ambitious effort. While the band has developed a trademark of sounding huge, Paralytic Stalks takes this concept to entirely new stratum. The album sounds exponentially more massive, but to the point of being fatefully bombastic.

On the band’s best releases, Satanic Panic in the Attic and Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer, Barnes deftly reconciled gargantuan arrangements with succulent, unforgettable melodic hooks. In the midst of Barnes’ faltering marriage, he managed to sound both cathartic and charming.

The pieces on this release are entirely shapeless. With the exception of perhaps the opening piece, “Gelid Ascent,” the remaining eight tracks have absolutely no foundational structure. They are vapid pieces — fraught with exhausting and unnecessary melodic shifts, masking textures, and predictable volatility.

Simply put, Paralytic Stalks is a directionless aural catastrophe. Many tracks initially sound enticing, but are frustratingly lost an over-ambitious pursuit of eccentricity.

“Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” begins with pounding, immensely danceable rhythms, and for the first four minutes, it is Kevin Barnes at his best: emotionally afflicted, deceptively anthemic and effortlessly articulate. Yet a quasi-tribal polyrhythms suddenly derails the piece before it flows into a disco-tinged attack of pitch-bent synths and spiraling loops.

At first, “Exorsicmic Haunting Knife” sounds chilling and enticing, but by this point in the album, one can almost expect Barnes to wreck this potential – and that he does. Within minutes, the piece shatters into of a cheap impression of minimalist classical, which serves absolutely no purpose within the larger context of the album.

The incessant array of sonic trickery detracts from the fact that, lyrically, these are Barnes’ most confessional works. Returning to the previously-used motif of his ailing marriage, he is filled with more vitriol than ever before.

Yet, even this is subsumed in Barnes’ pretentiousness. Although Barnes certainly has a literary talent, his lyrics are tediously verbose, and at times his delivery is cringe-worthily awkward. On “Spiteful Intervention,” Barnes sings, “Lately all I can produce is psychotic vitriol, that really should fill me with guilt, but all I have is asthmatic energy.”

As a whole, Paralytic Stalks comes off as a piece of pretentious, disillusioned rubbish. Hearing Barnes speak of the album, I anticipated something entirely singular, and perhaps, the album met this expectation. But listening to it also feels like an exercise in futility.

Score 39/100