REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/12/2010
False Priest has been touted by frontman and songwriter Kevin Barnes as Of Montreal’s funkiest release to date. He’s right to a point. This record has a heavier low end than previous Of Montreal releases, and there’s a much higher level of live drums then the band has used before. But on the whole, those differences are minor; and while this album does have a slightly wider sonic palate than their previous records, it’s not like those were exactly lacking in anything that this album has. Their electronically-influenced pop style remains as distinctive as ever. Certainly no one will mistake the songs on here as anything other than Of Montreal.
Of course, what it all comes down to isn’t the sound but the songs, and unfortunately Barnes didn’t quite bring his “A” game this time around. 2008’s Skeletal Lamping may have been schizophrenic and scattershot, but it was also bursting at the seams with great hooks which rescued many tracks that may otherwise have fallen flat. This album is far more reigned in, and while the hooks are still there, they’re given out to us on a more rationed basis. In some regards, this approach is preferable. With its consistent sound and more normal arrangements, False Priest is certainly Of Montreal’s most accessible record since 2004’s Satanic Panic In The Attic.
But on the other hand, for the first time in a long while, there is some truly weak material here. Unless you’re paying attention, the final three tracks may just completely pass you by. They do little but drag the album out longer than necessarily and there isn’t anything particularly memorable about them. “You Do Mutilate?” in particular rambles on and on for nearly seven boring minutes. The rest of the album never sinks that low, but it’s still disconcerting to hear such mediocre material from Of Montreal when weak tracks used to be few and far between.
Several of these tracks rock much harder than Of Montreal previously have been known for. Lead single “Coquet Coquette” thunders along on timpani rolls and chugging guitar. The spiraling guitars featured in the chorus of “Famine Affair” make for a very exiting moment as well.
Of Montreal guested on Janelle Monáe’s album earlier this year and she returns the favor by way of a duet on the chorus of “Enemy Gene.” I can practically hear Barnes grinning from ear to ear while singing with Monáe, and that joy is contagious. If any Of Montreal song ever deserved to be a hit, it’s this one. That chorus really is fantastic. It’s followed up a few tracks later by another semi-duet, this time with Solange Knowles (sister to Beyonce). However, their “Sex Karma” doesn’t reach the same ecstatic place as its predecessor, though it’s certainly fun and danceable (despite the cringe-worthy hook lyric “you look like a playground to me player”). It bothers me a little how similar it is to “Enemy Gene,” but nevertheless, it’s also a major highlight.
Monáe also appears during the coda of “Our Riotous Defects,” but you’d be forgiven for not noticing her since the main part of the song is one of the most eccentric tracks Barnes has ever attempted. He sings about he’s in a relationship with a “crazy girl” and proceeds to tell us (not sing us) about all the crazy things she’s done. It’s actually pretty funny, but it also seems like he’s trying a little too hard to surprise his listeners. She threw his beta fish out the window? He bought a bowflex? Wait, what?
On Of Montreal’s early albums, Kevin Barnes wrote about strange characters, and gradually he began writing about his own life until that became his primary inspiration. By the time Skeletal Lamping rolled around he had switched back to writing about characters, however, this time he had become the character himself. But where is he now? The title False Priest implies some sort of religious theme, and the album art seems to confirm it, yet, aside from a distorted rant in “You Do Mutilate?” at the end of the record, Barnes rarely touches on the issue. Most of the tracks don’t really seem to about anything in particular aside from the theme of weird relationship issues, which he had already mined so thoroughly in his past work.
It’s much too soon to tell whether or not this will end up as a transitional album in Of Montreal’s catalogue, or if they’re just treading water. After a long string of big hitters False Priest aims lower, but it does hit its mark, at least most of the time, anyway.