Music Review: Of Montreal’s “Paralytic Stalks”

Well, then. What in the world was that?

It’s a habit–perhaps a bad one–of mine to “review” albums in my head while I’m listening to them, giving the individual songs ratings that add up to a cumulative score for the album. It may be a reductive system, but it helps me sort out my stream of first impressions into something resembling a cohesive opinion. Of Montreal’s new album, Paralytic Stalks, made sure something like that didn’t happen. You see, this is the type of album that’s so out-there that those who absolutely love it, and those who unequivocally loathe it, will probably do so for the exact same reason: because it is so, so unapologetically strange. Of Montreal’s frontman Kevin Barnes, he of crossdressing, Greek mythology-referencing infamy, has never been one for normality; even so, Paralytic Stalks represents a new high (or low) in pure musical eccentricity. The closest recent comparison I can think of is Sufjan Stevens’s similarly divisive The Age of Adz, in which Stevens appropriated glitch and orchestral music and sung about volcanoes on tracks that stretched to twenty-five minutes in length.

 

Of Montreal's new album, "Paralytic Stalks", out February 7th on Polyvinyl Record Co.

This is all to say that, if nothing else, Paralytic Stalks is a very audacious album, full of bizarre instrumental interludes, 7-minute avant-garde vocoder odysseys, and song titles like “We Will Commit Wolf Murder”. Accuse Kevin Barnes of being flamboyant or unnecessarily ostentatious if you like, but there’s no denying that an album like this takes a lot of guts. Which, sadly, is the best thing I can say about it: I respect Paralytic Stalks a lot, but I don’t really get much else out of it. Barnes has always had a great ear for melody (just listen to 2004’s brilliant “Erroneous Escape into Eric Eckles”), and he occasionally employs that ear to great use here, but for every catchy minute that a track like “Dour Percentage” provides, there’s about seven minutes of clanging percussion and processed noise, like on the intensely weird “Exorcismic Breeding Knife”.

Which is all well and good–if you know me, you know I have no problem with “weird music”–but Barnes’s insistence on being unconventional seems aggressively calculated and even sort of artistically disingenuous. One imagines Barnes (who wrote every track here) sitting in front of a computer, wondering how best to “freak out” his audience rather than how to let them best enjoy themselves. This means, somewhat paradoxically, that Of Montreal’s insistence on exploring the outer realms of pop music ends up being something of a downer. Paralytic Stalks could easily have been an exciting, melodic masterwork of an indie pop album, but, through an outmoded attachment to the “experimental,” the band seems insistent on weighing it down.

–Alex Robertson, Arts Editor

Paralytic Stalks is out February 7th, 2012 on Polyvinyl Record Co. 


 

 

 

Posted by on January 9, 2012. Filed under Arts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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