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Record Review: of Montreal’s Paralytic Stalks

By / Posted on 06 February 2012

of Montreal — Paralytic StalksNot counting compilations, demos, EPs, remixes and the like, Paralytic Stalks is of Montreal’s eleventh studio album. As such, it’s only safe to assume that most people who had any interest in Kevin Barnes’ unique brand of psychedelic pop would’ve generated an opinion on the band by now, and the band has gone through so many stylistic movements that it would be challenging to choose an appropriate starting point for newcomers*. From folk-pop along to disco and beyond, of Montreal’s sound has evolved to match Barnes’ musical prowess, the tools available to him, and the voice he feels appropriate for the songs at the time.

Paralytic Stalks is Kevin Barnes at his most Broadway musical rock opera. There is a veritable chorus line of Kevins kicking and swirling in a Busby Berkeley fever dream/acid trip. This is not surprising, though, and is the only logical progression for Kevin after the building extravagance of form in his last few albums. The genuine surprise of Paralytic Stalks is its barrier of entry. The album is largely devoid of hooks, as Barnes seems to have outlived the “pop” part of his genre in favor of Animal Collective styled orchestral freak outs. His lyrics have grown more verbose with obliquely floral wordage, yet are consistantly vague in just what exactly they are attempting to convey — absurdly descriptive in being nondescript. By and large these choices make Kevin seem more like a snarky teenager trying to prove he’s deeper and more poetic than everyone around him than the charming olde-timey troubadour pixie he’d been before. There is no opportunity for an audience to sing along, and the closest Paralytic Stalks comes to a catchy chorus is “Spiteful Intervention”‘s decree “I spend my waking hours haunting my life / I made the one I love start crying tonight / And it felt good! / Still, there must be a more elegant solution.

Every of Montreal album brings more of what there was before — more colorful poetry, more blacklight funk, more self-penitent sexuality — and Paralytic Stalks‘s failing is that it brings more of the most inaccessible parts of the band. Songs drop their tempo and instrumentation on a whim, Kevin’s many voices argue amongst themselves arythmically, the narrative is inconsistent and challenging to the point of confounding anybody who tries to follow it. This is in no way a bad album, everything sounds just fine and none of it is particularly shocking for those familiar with the band’s back catalog, but the tone of the whole package insists of the audience paying attention without ever telling them why. It’s impossible to be played as background music or even discussed atop of and teeters across the edge of obnoxious. Still, at this point of Montreal fans know exactly what they’re getting into. Paralytic Stalks is unlikely to be anybody’s favorite of Montreal album, but it is unmistakably an of Montreal album.

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* That’s a total lie. Start at Satanic Panic in the Attic, it is by far their most accessible.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.