If you followed of Montreal down their Hissing Fauna/Skeletal Lamping rabbit holes, you’ll be prepared for their Jon Brion-produced soul-and-R&B-influenced (aka Parliament-nodding) 10th album False Priest. You get the ambitious post-’90s oM pastiche — anyone remember the relatively calm waters of The Gay Parade? — but in smoother form. Compositionally, there are plenty of twists and turns, just not always in the span of a single measure. In return, they’ve upped Kevin Barnes’ schizo comedy. (After taking in “Our Riotous Defects” or the start of “You Do Mutilate?” you’ll wonder when he plans to start a career in Flight Of The Conchords-esque stand up, though, you have to appreciate what Barnes is doing. Indie rock doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.) Of course, the biggest angle folks are taking on False Priest is the participation of Janelle Monáe (and to a lesser degree, the lesser Solange Knowles.)
The female vocal accompaniment works well (see the airy ending to “Our Riotous Defects,” the “Islands In The Stream” of “Sex Karma“), but in the end it’s Kevin Barnes’s show — he and his gonzo technicolor sensibility remain the center of the spotlit funhouse. At times you wish he’d keep the monologues to a minimum, the rich sound of the well-turned compositions notched-down via too many of those pan-sexual one liners. Yes, much of False Priest is ridiculous. oM have always been ridiculous — your enjoyment of these 53 minutes can often depend on whether you ever had a Ween phase and how much you can deal with funk and soul parody and hokey James Brown affectations. You’ve likely already heard “Hydra Fancies” and “Coquet Coquette” (and that “Enemy Gene” snippet) so you have an idea of what to expect.
There are good lines (“If I treated someone else the way I treat myself / I’d be in jail,” the connection between protests, Bowflex, color contacts, and a gal’s “stupid little blog”), hooks (see the relatively understated “Enemy Gene”), and compelling moments. But for all the things Barnes stuffs into False Priest, at times it lacks an actual heart. Or seems like a formal exercise. Even so, it’s more consistently enjoyable than Skeletal Lamping, though it can’t reach the same bliss as the careening glam pop on Hissing Fauna. That may go back to the heart thing: Hissing Fauna’s ADD-addled shifts were grounded in Barnes’ own broken relationship, his attempts to sift through the aftermath. For False Priest he mentioned wanting to channeling the R&B musicians he admires and then channeling his alternate personalities. Maybe this made it too schizophrenic? More about textures and characters than tangible emotions? When Barnes stopped by for a Progress Report he mentioned trying to write songs while drunk. Maybe that’s it? Or, to quote False Priest’s “Like A Tourist,” maybe Barnes got stuck fetishizing the archetype and lost a bit of himself in the process.
False Priest is out 9/14 via Polyvinyl.