Of Montreal: False Priest

Kevin Barnes returns with yet another set of Hissing Fauna-admiring pop, this time with help from Jon Brion, Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles.

Of Montreal

False Priest

Label: Polyvinyl
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: 2010-09-13

Even as an ancillary member of Athens, Georgia's psych-pop outfit Elephant Six (home to Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo, Circulatory System, et al) Kevin Barnes and his of Montreal troupe often stood out as "the weird ones". What began as a piano-based folk-pop project that turned out heavily narrative-driven musings on gay life, bored marriages, middle management immobility, and whatever was going on in the imaginary universe of Coquelicot has (mostly) organically evolved into the most unexpected of things: a funk outfit. What began as an artistic rebirth on Hissing Fauna, in which Barnes took the dance-oriented synths of Sunlandic Twins and Satanic Panic to their most conceptual as he slowly transformed into the drag queen Georgie Fruit in order to cope with his depression and divorce, has now come to encompass everything about the band. And while Barnes claims the Fruit persona has been cast aside for this release, it's often difficult to notice.

False Priest presents itself as a highly impenetrable album because of Barnes' word choice. Where Skeletal Lamping was an album so ramshackle musically that certain sects claimed the album was intended to be played backward, False Priest flips the conceit the other direction and creates an awesomely dense lyrical journey. Not that the music is any less dramatic or afflicted by an extreme desire to impress. "Coquette Coquette" runs itself through three or four distinct movements, all slightly related, but like Skeletal Lamping, feeling more like a few different ideas mashed together. Many of the songs, particularly "Our Righteous Defects" and "Girl Named Hello", feature extended musical codas that sometimes lead into the next track, sometimes serve as nothing more than extra time on the CD. "Our Righteous Defects" should be a welcome surprise to long-time listeners, by the way, as Barnes revives his spoken word style from the Gay Parade days for a little relationship interplay with R&B savior(?) Janelle Monae before allowing her a spaced out solo. Monae returns again more prominently for "Enemy Gene", one of the album's first great moments. Not surprisingly, it's also one of the few songs in which Barnes finds an adorable melody and prefers to stick with it, rather than twist it multiple times for fun.

Songs like "Godly Intersex" and "Casualty of You" are held back by ambition and genius, two traits that are just as dangerous as it is exquisite when the well begins to run dry. "Godly Intersex" has a sneakily catchy chorus that will go from annoying to swell quick, as Barnes often does, but the rest of the song is thrown through a gauntlet of noise that actually makes it harder to listen to the nicer your sound system gets. "Casualty of You", meanwhile, witnesses Barnes falling into a trap all too many artists have found themselves in lately: the allure of mimicking the Purple One. In the pop world, only The-Dream has really managed this ambition successfully, in part because he realizes he could never sing like Prince and thus must go for style points instead. Barnes hunts those, with the synths and organs of "Enemy Gene" and the kinky nature of "Feel Ya' Strutter", "Like a Tourist" and "Sex Karma" (featuring Beyoncé's sister Solange), and does assimilate them into the of Montreal template effectively.

But when he chases that classic upper register, such as on "Casualty of You" or "Like a Tourist", frustratingly shaky vocal turns are par for the course. Barnes also finds himself using a flatter, more monotone delivery on tracks like "Enemy Gene", "Hydra Fancies" and album standout "Famine Affair" (which feels like a thinly veiled Dinosaur Jr. tribute of all things). This voice provides many of the most pleasant, affecting vocals on the album, and while his basic tenor is still appreciated, I wouldn't mind much more of this in the future. His voice cracks appropriately and feels much more in sync with the backing music. And from a personal standpoint, I would just rather he try to do himself rather than crank out the naked Purple adoration that encompasses about half the tracks here. False Priest carries strong ambitions towards being something of a synth-funk album, but it's often the actual of Montreal moments that ring most authentic.

False Priest is certainly a notable step-up from Skeletal Lamping, the release where Barnes lost me as a fan. False Priest doesn't do enough to reel folks like me back into the hype machine, mainly because the lyrics are simply too dense and abstract to enjoy in this setting. I wish Barnes would realize his genius was not in massive amalgamations of '80s culture, but in small moments such as Jacques Lamure's unrequited love for a co-worker. At this point, it's hard to say Barnes is no longer a genius, but it's easy to say his genius lies almost entirely in arrangement and melody these days. Whether it's old fans or folks who've never heard his work before (though definitely more so with the latter), I've struggled over the past few weeks to find anyone willing to listen to this disc's entire run-time because of the lyrical style. Much of that is owed to their abrasive style, which doesn't become endearing like the music does after a dozen or so listens. The lyrics, unfortunately, remain impassable to all but the most dedicated Barnes heads.

"You Do Mutilate?", the album closer, is definitely the biggest head-scratcher on an album full of them, though. The song bursts out of the gate quite annoyingly before settling into a fairly mediocre groove and masking Barnes' voice in robot effects as he monologues about the dangers of religious belief, government and other political topics. It's a moment obviously intended to summarize what False Priest has been all about -- the importance of human friendship and companionship -- but instead comes off a pandering and needlessly confrontational. Not to mention most listeners -- including myself -- will only pick up on all the sex, and thus be confused when this robot enters stage left. Which, in a sense, is a secondary summary of False Priest, an album filled with great ideas, but often too excited to make them fully coherent and palatable.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise -- and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there's certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

Keep reading... Show less

Mixing some bland "alternate" and "film" versions of Whitney Houston's six songs included on The Bodyguard with exemplary live cuts, this latest posthumous collection for the singer focuses on pleasing hardcore fans and virtually no one else.

No matter how much it gets talked about, dissected, dismissed, or lionized, it's still damn near impossible to oversell the impact of Whitney Houston's rendition of "I Will Always Love You".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.