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Album review: Of Montreal, 'Paralytic Stalks'

Of Montreal

At first glance, it’s hard to imagine an album that sounds less like the Of Montreal of 1999 than Paralytic Stalks. Upon closer inspection, though, the band’s forthcoming album still has the wordy lyrics, theatricality, unusual instruments, talk of sexual fluidity, and love of David Bowie and the Beatles that have always defined them. Now those elements have evolved and been largely buried under a wave of distortion. At some moments, Paralytic Stalks is Of Montreal at their best, but at others it’s a self-indulgent, avant-garde mess.

The album starts off on a bizarre note with the introduction to “Gelid Ascent”: a ten-second silence followed by a sudden drum-roll and an onslaught of synth and then a distorted monologue from frontman Kevin Barnes. Eventually it picks up and it’s mostly Barnes’ verbose singing over a heavy but slow drumbeat and a flurry of distortion. Next comes “Spiteful Intervention”, mostly Barnes’ vocals with some orchestral string and piano accompaniment. Here Barnes brings out his usual elevated lyricism, speaking of “quotidian characters”, “asthmatic energy”, and “psychotic vitriol” between passionately shouting the chorus.

Track three, “Dour Percentage”, is a slow but fun, falsetto track falling somewhere between glam-rock and disco. That flows nicely into “We Will Commit Wolf Murder”, another dancey song drawing from the same era and driven by Barnes’ schizophrenic vocal tracks. After that comes “Malefic Dowery”, a pleasant, flirtatious track about the cost of love on which Barnes sings a sultry falsetto alongside soft woodwinds.

From there things get increasingly bizarre starting with “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff”. That track starts out with a disco keyboard track, which breaks down, leads into an intense vocal outburst of feeling “broken, impotent, and insane”, and then a long, distorted guitar solo, ultimately descending into a collage of sounds. Next is the album’s single, “Wintered Debts”, a patchwork of several songs really, some catchy, some emotional, some inventive, and some almost unbearable. The next song, “Exorcismic Breeding Knife”, sticks to the last of those qualities. It’s a seven and a half-minute avant-garde track that would have been bold and innovative several decades ago.

Finally comes “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission”, the first few minutes of which are some of the album’s best. It starts out with some epic percussion resembling recent Radiohead followed by a smooth electro-beat. After that the Barnes starts singing his heart out alongside the intensifying beat. At some point, though, it all gives way to a wave of synth and then a lone five-minute note.

Paralytic Stalks still contains Of Montreal’s heart, soul, talent, but it’s probably just overthought. It might have sounded fantastic in its raw form but somewhere down the line somebody decided to add layer upon layer of unnecessary and unenjoyable experimentation on top of it. Half of the songs (and parts of the rest) are still solid, interesting, and powerful, but the album as a whole lacks cohesion and consistency. Paralytic Stalks comes out February 7 via Polyvinyl. Preview the LPs lead single "Dour Percentage" below.