of Montreal have been a million different entities, from a billion different angles in a trillion different dimensions. From the peppy acid-dance punk of 2007’s brilliant Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, to the psychedelic indie-pop/funk of 2004’s Satanic Panic in the Attic!, mastermind Kevin Barnes’ muses are lengthy and disparate. However chameleonic Barnes and Co. have gone over on past releases, the throwback ‘60s pop of his new album, Lousy with Sylvianbriar, still seems somehow completely out of left field.
Therein lies of Montreal’s bizarre appeal: To seemingly keep themselves guessing as often as their audience.
Lousy with Sylvianbriar is steeped ankle-deep with Barnes’ academic non sequiturs, which swirl like psychotropic babble into and around a brook of warm, nostalgic rock tunes in perhaps the most organic recording of Barnes’ career. Fleeing to San Francisco, recruiting new players and eschewing the borderless sonic property afforded with multi-take computer recordings, Barnes endeavored to lay songs down in his home studio on a 24-track without computers. The result, really, is a stunning re-imagining of Barnes’ songwriting prowess suddenly peeking out from behind the folds of a thick curtain of beats and keyboards.
The shapeshifting is evident on the very first track, the Iggy Pop-ish “Fugitive Air,” where Barnes’ unmatched lyrical phrasing and attention to placement of vocal cadence finds even loftier praise against the backdrop of a rock ‘n’ roll dustup.
Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Barnes’ knack for delivering longwinded lines of deliciously wiry poetry comes across both somewhat pretentious and delightful. Never is this more evident than on “Obsidian Currents,” a track floating on a trippy wave of watery guitars and laid-back acid-rock groove, Barnes crooning “There is a virus in your tenets/don’t be naïve, you know it’s true/and if you don’t protect yourself/Obsidian currents will devour you.” Elsewhere, gorgeous guitar-and-piano based numbers like “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” arrive as lush and ornate as any Lennon composition (if Lennon were ever to have written lines like “The flume of your struggle is flooded with sorrow and it poisons everybody near”). The album wears its influences on its sleeves, and triumphs despite all its selfless homage.
Barnes can still get downright ugly, too. “Colossus” opens with the cheery lyric “Your mother hung herself in the national theater when she was four months pregnant with your sister, who would have been 13 years old today/Does that make you feel any less alone in the world?” There’s an attention to the scabby underbelly of the cuddly-wuddly world that drives Barnes’ artistic vision to new plateaus on Lousy with Sylvianbriar. Vocalist Rebecca Cash soothes the savagery somewhat on her front-and-center performance of “Raindrop in My Skull,” providing an eerily beautiful yang to Barnes’ sometimes dreary yin—even though with one listen to the lyrics, Barnes is all over it.
Whether exposing light or dark, or some blank hue in the middle, Barnes has all but bulls-eyed his status as a brilliantly daring artist on Lousy.