REVIEW: Of Montreal – ‘Lousy With Sylvianbriar’

Of Montreal Lousy With Sylvianbriar

Artist: Of Montreal
Album: Lousy With Sylvianbriar
Genre: Psychedelic pop
Label: Polyvinyl

Hearing Of Montreal’s music for the first time is a trip in every sense of the word. When they formed in 1996, frontman Kevin Barnes wound up creating not just a new church, so to speak, but an entire religion. It’s all too easy to pick up a program, walk down the pews, and take a seat at whichever album cover—in the form of a stained glass window—looks the most appealing. Psychedelic twee pop such as theirs dresses snarky poems in feathered boas and rejected Broadway props, and cathedral-like song structures have grounded them in their respective dates.

With the release of Paralytic Stalks last year came another mound of exhaustion. Of Montreal have steamrolled their catalogue, often putting out so much new music that it becomes hard to remember what the name of their most recent release is. It began to look like their goals no longer a priority, making music out of habit, music that a label could sell because their name is big enough to get attention, instead of placing priority on crafting the best new music. Finally, in a surprise twist the innermost corner of myself was hoping for, Lousy With Sylvianbriar has broken this streak.

Lousy With Sylvianbriar, Of Montreal’s twelfth album to date, redefines their sound once more, but this time they’ve stepped far outside of their comfort zone. Barnes upped and left Athens, Georgia to record the new album in a sunny San Francisco, plowing through the songs as quickly as he could so as to lasso spontaneity and immediacy on a 24-track tape. He has now finally woken from his muddled sleepwalking state, releasing a record that is focused, controlled, and daring– all without losing their trademark, dream-like qualities (as if anyone would willingly part with the band’s drugged-up backing harmonies).

We’re introduced to this new sound through opener “Fugitive Air.” Rattling chord progressions and the decline in the chorus’ vocal cadence prepare Of Montreal’s last supper table with psychedelic placemats and cowboy boot salt and pepper shakers.

It’s quick to establish the album’s late 60s, early 70s theme, and as with any trip to that era, Beatles influences are glaring. Two thirds of the way through “Sirens Of Your Toxic Spirit” comes layered, eerie harmonies that parallel 1969’s “Because”; violin-driven “Raindrop In My Skull” has the same hazy drawl as the beginning of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”; closer “Imbecile Rages” waves to Ringo Starr with a fevered grin. They’re all obvious, but Barnes was never trying to hide them to begin with.

Of Montreal are trying on country licks for a change, and they make sure to align them with classic rock greats instead of a dusty saddle. Tracks like “Belle Glade Missionaries” and “Amphibian Days” coin that style before it tries a little too hard on “Hegira Émigré,” the latter prancing with a hokey cowboy bass line, allowing for some potential eyerolls.

Tongue-in-cheek lyrics aren’t dolled up like they were in Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? or Skeletal Lamping (although “Triumph Of Disintegration” gets pretty damn close), but Lousy With Sylvianbriar unravels a scroll of detailed work. “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?” Barnes sings on “Colossus,” pairing the haunting image with a cheery tonality.

Even though Lousy With Sylvianbriar is sewn together remarkably well, its standout tracks are too defined to miss. “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” slings an Italian classic guitar over its shoulder, the fingerpicking somehow not out of place on a psychedelic country pop record. Even more impressive than that is “She Ain’t Speakin’ Now.” A patient, trembling guitar and country slide move over for fuzzy bass and a chaotic chorus whose main line—“Her psyche’s cracked or anyhow, she ain’t speakin’ now,”—should be belted in those heightened, cinematic nighttime moments.

It’s been a while since Of Montreal gave you something to chew on that ranked well in both flavor and longevity; Lousy With Sylvianbriar is that missing album. Finally Of Montreal have added something to their religious discography that is quirky enough to deserve its own stained glass window, and it seems the relentless music-makers had to go through eleven other records to get there. Lousy With Sylvianbriar is a brave trajectory for the band that can’t be split up or picked apart because, finally, there’s no sloppy debris around its edges to make choosing singles easy. It’s a record to be played start to finish, and the quality of its songwriting will have you starting the whole thing over once it’s ended.

Score: 9.4/10

Review written by: Nina Corcoran (Follow her on Twitter)

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.