Of Montreal: Paralytic Stalks
Bottom Line: Of Montreal's most experimental record to date; probably isn't their forte
\tAs a tried and true Of Montreal fan, I get excited whenever I hear they're coming out with something new. Of Montreal is one dynamic band, starting as Kevin Barnes singing cutesy songs with an acoustic guitar, then moving into whimsical vignettes about volunteer firemen and wax museums, then getting into a fairly catchy pop sound, and most recently experimenting with an over-sexualized Prince-wannabe appeal. This latest category includes their two albums Skeletal Lamping and False Priest, both of which I found disappointing at first but had a few tracks that really grew on me.
\tI'm not sure that this will be the case with Of Montreal's newest album, Paralytic Stalks, unless they're trying to lower my standards with each new record they release.
\tWhen I first heard that Of Montreal would be coming out with an album this year, all I could think was "please be done with the "˜Georgie Fruit' character," referring to frontman Kevin Barnes's oversexed alter-ego from their latest two and a half releases. I was truthfully hoping for a return to their earlier, more cheerful pop-oriented sound, yet I'd say that Paralytic Stalks is probably their least accessible album to date.
\tMy first impression of the album can be summed up in the perennial words that summarize indie douche-dom: "so experimental." It's definitely not one would call "catchy" at all, making it unlike their early to middle sound, and lacks a sexual tone, so at least "Georgie Fruit" is dead. The album has an all new sound full of random droning, occasional melodies, and a whole lot of Kevin Barnes's trademark sing-talking with a heavy dose of falsetto. The album's lyrics are their darkest since the 12-minute rant "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" on Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? However, while on paper I would have loved an album with 9 songs that followed this formula, the execution wasn't what I'd hoped for.
\tParalytic Stalks opens with "Gelid Ascent" (apparently "˜gelid' means very cold - the more you know!), a brooding song with a continuous build up that just drops off at the end. This segways into "Spiteful Intervention," one of the shorter songs and arguably a high point of the album. Its faux dance-beat in the background acting as a foil to Barnes singing "I made the one I love start crying tonight, and it felt good" reminds me of the band's repeated tactic of matching sad lyrics to upbeat melodies, but unfortunately this is an isolated case on the album. The next track, "Dour Percentage," is full of falsetto and features flutes and horns, but I find it fairly forgettable (get a load of the alliteration I just used). The next track "We Will Commit Wolf Murder" is another I just can't get into, although it's successor, "Malefic Dowry" has a fairly nice muzak-esque melody and is short enough to be pleasant.
\tThe second half of the album features songs that are at least 7 and a half minutes long each, beginning with the fairly high-energy "Ye, Renew the Plaintiff." The lyrics, addressed to Kevin Barnes's wife, depict something of an existential crisis until the song largely becomes instrumental in the second half. The next song, "Wintered Debts" repeats this pattern, albeit with less energy. The album then becomes even weirder, as the song "Exorcismic Breeding Knife" sounds like The Beatles' "Revolution 9" and is hard not to skip. The last song, "Authentic Pyrrhic Remission," is a 13 minute epic that goes through three different sounds; it opens like much of the rest of the album, with falsetto vocals and jarring beats, then goes into a six minute long noise section where I honestly think the band walked away from their instruments, and closes with a surprisingly nice piano ballad that I would love to hear more of from the band.
Overall, the album seems to suffer from its ambition. It goes into too many different styles in too short a span, and long stretches of it just end up being forgettable. The sounds you want to hear more of end up being too short, and the cacophonous ones end up just dragging on. The high points of the album, not surprisingly, come during its more pop-oriented bits, which the band has proved time and time again they excel at. While I can understand wanting not to be forced into any formula, and some parts of the album for all their weirdness really are intriguing, I wouldn't say this album is a step in the right direction, especially after their last two releases.