Highlights: Spiteful Intervention, Dour Percentage, We Will Commit Wolf Murder
A new album by of Montreal is always welcome. While the band's enormous catalogue has enough weak points, there’s no denying that every single effort by Barnes & Co sounds inspired, convincing, supercharged. It’s good to know that Kevin Barnes’ stream-of-consciousness styled songwriting is still in full bloom – even if Paralytic Stalks does suffer from certain indulgencies (of which more later).
Sound-wise, Paralytic Stalks is more of the same: psychedelic pop, Bowie, Beatles, Prince. But it’s not the sound (or, indeed, the melodies) that makes this stuff so exciting and so charismatic: it’s the fact that Barnes makes the impression of being this drunken alcoholic blubbering obscenities. But what comes out has nothing obscene about it: what you hear is a never-ending, ever-changing onslaught of terrific vocal melodies and hooks piling on top of each other. It gets so cluttered occasionally that a track like “Spiteful Intervention” might include sections certain moneyed artists would kill for. Barnes, though, doesn’t even bother to repeat these sections, which is maddening but makes for extremely rewarding further listens.
The first side of Paralytic Stalks is near flawless, with “Dour Percentage” possessing one of the most powerful soulful hooklines in the band’s entire catalogue. But that doesn’t mean a song like “Ye, Renew The Plaintiff” (oh those of Montreal’s titles!) is not good enough. It is, it’s just that it’s so long and has so much going on that you are bound to become somewhat fastidious. The aforementioned indulgencies begin after the pretty first half of “Wintered Debts”. Suddenly it’s all about long passages of orchestrated psychedelia that just become too much to bear. The mostly instrumental “Exorcismic Breeding Knife” is almost 8 minutes long, and then there's even more frustration: the closing song is as mind-blowingly catchy up to its 4-minute mark (easily my favourite thing here) as it is expendable afterwards (even though the last two minutes do provide some piano-based loveliness).
I’m still giving it a perfect eight because Barnes’ spontaneous brilliance can’t be denied. True, some of it might be overlong and weedy, but the number of absolutely ecstatic moments simply amazes. Paralytic Stalks is the year’s first half-classic, no less.