Of Montreal – thecontrollersphere (2011)

by Andrew Kaster

Completing the triptych journey he began four years ago, indie-pop’s Lothario provocateur Kevin Barnes finally exhibits strengths absent from much of Montreal’s recent material: subtlety and depth. Though the trips down realms of blue-eyed soul and processed funk acted as an entertaining diversion from the caustic Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, it shows that – without the catharsis – Barnes simply isn’t all too interesting (and at times, he can be jarringly annoying). For the good part of three years, of Montreal has been operating solely on fumes and residual spectacle. thecontrollersphere however, is a release so relentlessly catchy and psychologically savage that it draws fourth a somewhat hyperbolic conclusion: this is easily among the best releases from of Montreal. At the very least, it makes up for the “filler-pop” of some recent Of Montreal material.

While still exploring the promiscuous ego of Georgie Fruit, Kevin Barnes cycles through the densest of Montreal release yet. And though he claims that the songs on this EP are merely leftovers from the False Priest sessions, I can’t help but feel that he’s understating their quality by playing coy. Though the funk and soul tinges are still broad enough to recognize this as a logical progression, the songs here certainly don’t feel lifted from the same place, time, or even mindset of the band that recorded Skeletal Lamping and False Priest. The most apparent deviation from Georgie Fruit’s Dionysian mindset is opener “Black Lion Massacre”, a dark avant-garde piece within the vein of This Heat. Further severing his symbiotic relationship with the fictional Mr./Ms. Fruit, the hallucinatory pastoral folk ballad “Flunkt Sass vs. the Root Plume” channels the spirit of early career David Bowie (mellotron and overly dramatic vocals included) to create a nostalgic piece of psychedelia.

The remainder of the album acts as a testament to Barnes’ indefatigable nature and reputation as a pop composer. Whether he’s raiding foreign discotheques for peculiar and alien sounds (such as on the quasi-Mesopotamian epic, “Holiday Call”), or wrestling with the rattle and hum of bi-polarism (i.e. “Slave Translator”), Barnes composes himself with a sort of strategic bravado, the likes of which that made Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? so compelling. Even the lyricism is becoming more and more compelling as the story of Georgie Fruit retrogresses into a sort of Disco Bloodbath. Deconstructing the celebutante, Barnes drops lines of hopelessness, such as “even this ghetto world that has nothing doesn’t want me” and “I’m cutting myself and I feel like dirt”. Though lewd sex acts are still treated as pillow talk, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the coke trails are coming to an end and Georgie Fruit is becoming more and more spiritually violent.

The orgasms are getting shorter, the ecstasy is wearing off, and all the while the hangovers are deepening. Killing off Georgie Fruit could very well be the smartest artistic choice Barnes has made yet, for it provides a narrative that is emotionally taught, while at the same time, wildly entertaining. When he croons “I was only stabbing your heart because I was trying to get your attention” during the closer, one can’t help but think back to the ostensibly gloomy passages that were sprinkled throughout of Montreal’s poppy palette. Georgie Fruit was fun, but it was little more than an excessive celebratory victory lap. Even though Barnes has always been (and will most likely always will be) firmly rooted in the tenants of camp, pomp, and kitsch, his chameleon transformations will always be unpredictable in one way or another. Will he explore the realms of Euro-centric couture? Experiment with sounds much courses and callous than we’ve become accustomed to? Barnes has always been a man whose genius comes across as accidental in the way in which it blossoms. Much like his spiritual fathers Prince and Bowie, he’s unpredictable in both the best and worst ways possible. If there is anything thecontrollersphere succeeds in, it’s that it makes the future for of Montreal seem much brighter. “Rebirth suicide, rebirth suicide” he mutters on “Slave Translator”. And as history shows, indulging in what seems to be artistic suicide produces the most interesting results.

of Montreal – Slave Translator

of Montreal – Black Lion Massacre

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