RATE FALSE PRIEST:
It’s too much. It’s just too much. But then again, something’s missing. Maybe it’s not enough? False Priest, the latest offering from Of Montreal, is a paradox, an album that is simultaneously over- and underwhelming. It is a scattered record that seems cohesive. An album that is exquisitely produced, but hard on the ears. It’s bizarre and yet somehow predictable. And when it’s all over, it leaves me feeling much like the album itself – empty and unfulfilled.
Let’s talk about the good parts first. False Priest finds Kevin Barnes returning to real instruments for the first time in years– and thankfully turning the page on alter-ego Georgie Fruit – citing a “a thick R&B influence.” Barnes’ claims that False Priest is a “funky” album occasionally ring true; it’s certainly more organic than predecessors Skeletal Lamping and Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? And the space imagery often evoked by Funk isn’t too off-base here. Barnes’ voice and affections are so otherworldly at times that even guest spots from future-siren Janelle Monae seem down to Earth.
A lot of credit goes to Jon Brion, who takes a turn behind the knobs, only the second time in ten albums that someone other than Barnes has produced an Of Montreal record. You will be hard pressed to find a better produced album this year; sparkling treble and juicy bass are well balanced throughout. Brion lets Barnes use his natural instruments, voice stretching at times to reveal its raw core without seeming overblown. Brion brings with him guidance, and False Priest seems less haphazard, less caught up in the idea of being an album than Of Montreal’s recent releases. Rubbery bass licks thump in time with Barnes’ effeminate lounge-singer wail, giving some low end to what has historically been a keyed-up and high register outfit.
Take “Around the Way,” the penultimate track of the album. The track’s rumbling ebb and flow is a dark atmosphere that looks good on Barnes. In fact, it’s in contrast to tracks like this one that the negatives start to sneak in. Barnes should consider letting some of this darkness bleed through the rest of his sonics, not just in the juxtaposed lyrics of upbeat songs. Instead, we’re left with tracks like album opener “I Feel Ya Strutter,” a poor Scissor Sisters copy that tries too hard and completely ignores Barnes’ serious potential.
It’s almost as if half of the tracks on False Priest are impersonating Of Montreal, while the others try to push the group boldly forward. Savvy guest spots from Monae and Solange Knowles are a great indication of where Barnes could and should be focusing – instead he’s holding himself back. On “Like a Tourist” Barnes laments, “You fetishize the archetype,” but that’s a projection if I’ve ever seen one. The lyrics preceding that accusation border on self-parody: “You go to your favorite dark place/Think of the auto de fé /Unicorns eating baby meat” followed by, in shrill falsetto, “There’s a dragon rape if you want one.” Um, what? Stop it. It’s too much.
So there’s that. Too much of that. But there’s a more fatal flaw – where recent Of Montreal albums have been a cluster of concepts competing for air, False Priest is decidedly lacking in inspiration. Even Barnes seems out of it, as if Brion and bass have replaced Barnes’ heart in the studio. Indeed, the tracks that make up False Priest are generally soulless, pointless things. Aping the hip disaffection mastered by LCD Soundsystem, Barnes seems too-cold-for-soul rather than too-cool-for-school; James Murphy at least gives you hints that he really does care. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Our Riotous Defects,” a song that tries to inject pseudo-unpracticed monologue into a rigid song. It’s a song that is fine the first time, listenable for a few more spins, and then utterly infuriating. And let’s not even talk about “You Do Mutilate,” the heavy-handed trainwreck that closes the album.
Maybe the paradox found on False Priest is intentional, capturing the battle of old vs. new, two dueling spirits wrestling for control of Of Montreal’s future. Or maybe it’s Barnes’ concession that he doesn’t care as much as he used to. Or, to take a darker look at things, maybe False Priest is captures a high-speed descent into nothing. “If I treated someone else the way I treat myself, I’d be in jail,” says Barnes on “Girl Named Hello” – a song that talks, nay “jokes,” about doing lines with a girl named Hello. “Took an overdose,” he adds. “Didn’t do shit.” Maybe that’s it – this is a dance album full of sadness, confusion, disinterest. It’s a speedball of hectic pop, with buttery R&B hooks desperately trying to slow this whole thing down before someone gets hurt. “I’ve been at war with this suicidal depression, I’ve been standing on this strand far too long.”
False Priest isn’t uninspired, nor is it predictable. It’s just muddled, a hodgepodge or counter-intuitive decisions that seem to be at war with each other. Still, Barnes has continued to advance his sound, if not his ideas, and I’m sure this album will have plenty of fans. Just don’t count on me being one of them – to me False Priest sounds like a pigeonholed artist half-heartedly doing what he’s supposed to do. Barnes himself nails it perfectly on “Famine Affair”: “You’re not boring, I’m just bored with you.”
66 — [Rating Scale]
Of Montreal - "Sex Karma" (f/ Solange Knowles)