Thursday, 24 October 2013

Album review: of MONTREAL - Lousy With Sylvianbriar

Highlights: all of them  

Your mother hung herself in the National Theater
When she was four months pregnant with your sister
Who would have been thirteen years old today
Does that make you feel any less alone in the world?

There’s no question that Kevin Barnes’ mind is one of the most exciting things on Earth. However, these opening lines from “Colossus”, sung in a disarmingly pretty and deeply melodic way, are the sound of an exciting mind going completely off.

Gaudy cover, nonsensical titles, lyrics from a ‘Depressed & Deranged Anonymous’ cocktail party – that’s of Montreal’s new album. Easily, easily – their richest, most rewarding and engrossing ever.

Essentially, this is Kevin Barnes riding a time-machine - even if I still hesitate to compare it to the band’s first few albums: Lousy With Sylvianbriar is so much more than a bunch of nicely derivative melodies low on guts and imagination. These melodies are timeless from the off (those heavenly verses of “Amphibian Days”); what is more, they are all densely soaked with that lush, all-over-the-map spirit of the band’s post-2004 period. Consider last year’s Paralytic Stalks as a decent enough reference point; but take away wild psychedelic excesses, take away Prince, and leave that swirling, kaleidoscopic pop music running you over like a giant, inflatable, multicoloured bulldozer.

Lyrically, it’s tortured and entertaining. Often both. Believe me, there are enough lines here that will make you go ‘no?’, ‘clever!’, ‘huh?!?’ – particularly if you are new to the wonderful and frightening world of Kevin Barnes. Musically, it’s what Hell would sound like if Hell allowed pop music. Let’s just take “She Ain’t Speaking Now”. A brief 7-second instrumental blast gives you the infectious taste of the chorus; then comes the elegantly folksy verse that would on its own make any song great; then the colourful chorus growing in size until the moment it flies off the cliff with a sliding vocal hook; then the intense middle-eight that keeps piling up the energy; then the brilliant chorus again…  This is too good. There are tracks that are just downbeat (the musically gorgeous and lyrically sinister “Obsidian Currents”) and there are tracks that remain pumped-up and supercharged all the way through (“Hegira Migr” is pure glam-rock), but mostly there's stuff like "Belle Glade Missionaries” where right in the middle of Barnes’ delicious rage you get the loveliest moment on the whole album – the ‘female Henry Miller” moment.

Listening to Lousy With Sylvianbriar is a lot like standing in the sweetest, warmest torrential rain that just wouldn't stop. And you are umbrella-less and tragically naive - quite possibly, just like Kevin Barnes. Lousy With Sylvianbriar is a triumph. Quite simply, this album has it all.


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