If you’re a longtime fan of Kevin Barnes and his band of merry pranksters known as Of Montreal, then you also know that the guy changes up his sound about every three months. It seems that within just a month or two of releasing a record that he’s giving an interview saying he’s going in a completely different direction with the next album. Barnes has done twee pop/folk, Beatles-esque 60s pop, confessional lo-fi indie electronic, 70s funk, and even modern avante garde classical. They’re all hats that have oddly enough fit his head pretty well(some better than others.) After last year’s dense and difficult Paralytic Stalks Barnes decided to get back to basics with Of Montreal and go with some late-60s rock n’ roll. The result is Lousy With Sylvianbriar, an album filled with touches of Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and of course Of Montreal.
Barnes is the indie rock Prince. He can play pretty much anything, and has recorded all of the Of Montreal albums by himself since the mid-2000s. Lousy With Sylvianbriar is different in that Barnes went into the studio and recorded live with a full band, and recorded straight to tape. The results are stunning. There’s a crispness to the tracks that hasn’t been there in the past. Opener “Fugitive Air” is a rowdy rock n’ roll number that would’ve fit just right on Exile On Main Street. On last year’s Paralytic Stalks the highlight track was the sublime “Wintered Debts”, which featured pedal steel guitar. The pedal steel must’ve made an impression on Barnes as the instrument is scattered throughout Lousy With Sylvianbriar with great results. There’s an air of dirtied up rock n’ roll, courtesy of Muscle Shoals on this album. “Obsidian Currents” feels like an old school soul number with electric piano and some great walking bass parts that allow for Barnes to get his soul man on. “Belle Glade Missionaries” has a great groove and some of Barnes great wordplay that usually makes no sense but it sounds wonderful. “The blade missionaries are here to steal your cocaine/You better send your malaria to puncture their brains/ and Send them back to where they came from/Send them back to the souvenirs of disease.” Barnes is never short on vernacular eccentricities. Take the mud stomp of “Hegira Emigre”, one of the grittiest tracks Of Montreal has commited to tape yet. Barnes sings “If you’re thinking I’m caucasian well I’m actually gray/I was conceived on Ash Wednesday and stoned on Christmas Day” as the band gives him a rhythm to spit his attitude into the air.
Kevin Barnes has made his loosest album yet, all the while never hanging up any of Of Montreal’s eccentricities that have made them such a startlingly original band. He seems to have just needed a breather from creating bizarre characters and new languages so he could let his inner Mick Jagger gyrate and promenade across the stage for a bit. Another Georgian raconteur did the same thing earlier this year. Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, much like Kevin Barnes, decided to get back to basics and put out a howling, bloodied rock album after a couple years of putting out tightly wound and intricately created albums. Monomania is easily one of the best rock n’ roll albums of the year. You can add Lousy With Sylvianbriar to that list as well.
9.3 out of 10