KEVIN BARNES, ALL-ROUND songwriter, instrumentalist and general wizard behind Athens, Georgia’s Of Montreal, has pulled back a tad from the earlier work that delivered more chords per square inch than both England’s Squeeze and the entire genre of bebop combined, but it’s still fairly busy.
Taking also into account the intellectualism versus abstraction of the lyrics often reeled off in extended iambic pentameter suggesting an interest in the work of Bob Dylan or even Shakespeare, you end up with a very meaty cocktail indeed. The clumsy metaphor was on purpose. You never know what you’ll find in Barnes’s concoctions.
On Lousy With Sylvanbriar, Barnes also reels in the production flourishes of past Of Montreal work to give us a stately, almost straight psychedelic pop/rock affair, if mind-bendingly eccentric. No virtuosic performance calls for attention and the production doesn’t seem to be the point. It appears to be more about the songs breathing and the lyrics being able to be heard. I was going to say heard and understood, but with so many personal and self-referential phrases and little or no attempt to allow a listener to personally connect, the result is a big puzzle you just have to figure out for yourself. Barnes has also made it clear that the work of poet and author Sylvia Plath significantly inspired much of his wordplay here, so you’ve got a lot of research ahead of you. Grab car keys, to the library: Go!
If that’s your thing. I prefer to stay puzzled and just admire the beauty of a line like this one from ‘Triumph Of Disintegration’; ‘The voice with the synapse that calls blood bats into action has now entered the tablelands’. What does this mean? It’s out of context, sure, but my sincere attempt at an explanation might be that someone has convinced a group of people to go do something bad while he runs for the hills. Ha. Kind of Manson-esque. Not bad.
From ‘Amphibian Days’: ‘This bastard conveyance of extinct emotions that we know only in our cells’. Holding grudges without knowing he’s doing it? Hey, these explanations write themselves.
Though mixed nicely, if a little bass-light, Lousy With Sylvianbriar is probably not first choice for the audiophile. But if you’re looking for a true original whose work is more than worthy of a depth of analysis I was inept to demonstrate, or an intelligent pop songwriter who is not trying to fool you with dumb hooks and is not regurgitating in a me-too shtick, you can’t go wrong. PETER KEARNS
Sound = 3/5
Music = 3.5/5