of Montreal aptly title their latest batch of tunes.
5.5 / 10.0
Being a dedicated of Montreal fan must be a bit overwhelming. Prolificacy aside, (this is the group’s twelfth studio album, and fifth in seven years) countless lineup and stylistic changes must often produce a strained fan/artist relationship. While gene-jumping experimentation can prove rewarding, it’s a bit of a nuisance when the resulting album doesn’t necessarily live up to past material. While of Montreal’s bread and butter will always firmly be rooted in ’60s pop, flirtation (and sometimes outright obsession) with glam, R&B, and funk have culminated in often scattershot records that have enticed new listeners and shown old timers the door. Lousy with Sylvianbriar, an album with which of Montreal channel their most straightforward indie-pop in years, should be a sigh of relief for those who aren’t too partial to Georgia Fruit.
Lead singer, songwriter, instrumentalist (and occasional lone member) Kevin Barnes explained that this time around he aimed to create an album “in line with the way people used to make albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s”. Both sonically and melodically, Barnes couldn’t have summed it up any better. Previously released first track “Fugitive Air” is late ’60s psych-pop down to the “la la la” harmonies and twang guitar. Barnes, whose vocals oddly resemble a young Tom Verlaine (hasn’t anyone made this comparison before?) shifts from snarled swagger to benevolent falsetto without skipping a beat. While nothing we haven’t heard before, the nostalgic schmaltz of “Fugitive Air” seems to warmly introduce (or re-introduce) of Montreal as a band breathing new life into a familiar sound.
Sadly, this refreshing sense of vigor and playfulness wears off after just one song and doesn’t automatically yield itself similar results when applied holistically. In fact, of Montreal almost sound…dare I say it… generic. Approaching each song with the same understated rhythm plus lush oooo-ahhh double tracked harmony — any lasting hooks formula, the album proves non-offenseive and apathetic. “Belle Glade Missionaries”, a song about missionaries who would like to steal all of your cocaine, sounds like something Liam Gallagher threw together for his latest Beady Eye LP (that’s not a good thing). “Triumph of Disintegration” is mid-2000 Belle and Sebastian without the charm or catchy-ness of Belle and Sebastian. Likewise, “Hegira Emigre” admittedly acknowledges its mundanity; mindlessly ooo-ing its way to few too many toothless choruses amidst dull rock-ability guitar jangle.
Lousy with Sylvianbriar finds itself also nodding towards the softer, and appropriately less dynamic aspects of songwriting. Ballads “Obsidian Currents” and “Amphibian Days”, though pleasant and quaint, follow all too familiar patterns and tendencies to warrant repeated listen. Of course, commonplace inclinations are easily (and often) neglected if the song displays any sense of vitality, but of Montreal doesn’t seem to care how polite and correct they now sound. Is it wrong to want the old band back? Probably. But at least I could groove to those songs. Save for a few, all I can do with these is click the “next” key on my laptop.