of Montreal is a band with an instantly recognizable sound, and yet with every single record, they continue to reinvent themselves. Main mind Kevin Barnes has a knack for complex melody, verbose lyricism, and loading a mix with an incredible amount of instrumentation and detail, and all of these talents come into play on the band's 14th studio album Innocence Reaches. The band has come a long way from the release of Cherry Peel almost 20 years ago, but they have never lost their weirdness or unique approach to pop music.
In a few ways, this record is both a bit of something old and something new all wrapped up in one. There are more electronics incorporated into this record than the past couple, hearkening back to the days of Sunlandic Twins and the like, but with a different approach. They are still dance oriented, but Kevin Barnes admitted to focus a lot more on the low end, citing Jack Ü and Arca (among others) as influences on this new element. Apart from a few tracks (more on that later), I found that the new electronics fit in pretty snugly with the other tools of Montreal uses on this album. This one was definitely a slow burner that grew on me, so if it doesn't grab you right away, don't get discouraged. After a while, you'll find yourself humming a song you could have sworn you weren't so hot on yesterday. I'm going to break this one down track by track and share my thoughts:
"let's relate"- At first, I wasn’t really feeling this track, with its thumping club beat and the weird effects on Kevin’s voice, but I’ve since warmed up to it, and find it sneaking its way into my mind constantly. Catchy as hell. I’ve seen pieces about how the “how do you identify?” line is some commentary on trans issues, and that may be, but these pieces are acting like this is something new for of Montreal. I guess that the entire Georgie Fruit era of their music didn’t happen.
"it's different for girls"- The first single from the record, and an instant attention grabber. The funky rhythm guitar and bouncy bass line are fun, and the synths are incorporated nicely. I also like the lyrics a lot, which examine society’s treatment of women and the things they have to put up with from us guys and society at large. Meninists can be pissed, but it’s true.
"gratuitous abysses"- This song is definitely more in a rock vein than the previous two tracks, and sounds like it could have fit into Lousy with Sylvianbriar as one its peppier tracks, though the lyrics are just as bitter as that record. That “she became an ocean to watch me drown” line was pretty awesome.
"my fair lady"- This track is probably my favorite on the album, and it’s been rattling around in Kevin Barne’s notebook for a little while. For those of you that contributed to the Joyful Noise comp for Indiana Equality, you may remember this song in its demo form as ‘she courts calamities’. If you’re one of the 102 lucky people like myself to own the lathe cut single of it, even better. The song’s great. It’s about a girl that’s just too damaged to accept love. This is a slightly funk and jazz infused cut that could have also fit in pretty well in that Lousy era, but the ridiculously awesome saxophone solo (I’m a saxophone player, so every time I hear one on a song, there are brownie points) is something new entirely.
"le chants de maldoror"- This sounds like a mix of something that might have been left over from Aureate Gloom and some new school blues rock tune a la Black Keys (before they were overproduced of course). Those heavy rock riffs to tremolo guitar lines have a really bluesy sound to them. But of course, this is of Montreal, so it’s going to be a little weirder than that. Barnes puts in these really weird swirling keyboard parts, goofy backing vocals, and a guitar solo that sounds like he’s been jamming with Jorma Kaukonen.
"a sport and a pastime"- This track is definitely the most overtly influenced by the electronic elements Kevin Barnes was referring to, and unfortunately, it’s pretty much my least favorite track on here. It just sounds like some generic trap influenced down tempo electronic, and feel like Barnes could have done a lot more to make this sound his own. I never pictured an of Montreal song having a drop is all I’m saying. And while we’re on this, has anybody else had enough of these digital snare and high hat patterns yet? They’re in pretty much every commercial rap song these days, and it sounds like rattling, tinny garbage. We need new hip hop production as soon as humanly people.
"ambassador bridge"- This track is a better example of what of Montreal can do with these elements. It’s still kind of an electronically driven track, but it blends the sound so much better into an of Montreal template, but you still get that synth driven vibe from it. It’s an ok track, and it’s very chill in nature. It kind of jut flies by.
"def pacts"- This song continues down the electro ballad rabbit hole, except mining some darker territory, and getting a lot more experimental, incorporating strange sound effects and digital keyboards, and maybe some Midi strings (?) This song is one of the record’s most bitter, continuing the lyrical content Kevin Barnes himself referred to on Paralytic Stalks as ‘psychotic vitriol’.
"chaos arpeggiating"- This song is so weird. Sonically, it alternates between some demented funhouse complete with sour guitar chords, a more contemplative, almost Pink Floyd ambient section, and a propulsive rock part that with another Jorma Kaukonen guitar tone, begins to sound like Volunteers era Jefferson Airplane. What’s kind of amazing is how distinct these parts are, and yet how well they transition, which could have not have been easy to engineer. This is a truly perplexing track, and one of my favorites, because I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite like it, not even from of Montreal.
"nursing slopes"- A dreamy but still dance-able track. I enjoy what Barnes does with the synth line here, and I enjoy the harmonies a lot. I kind of imagine this is what the Beatles 'Because' would sound like if it got an ambient techno remix.
"trashed exes"- This is another one of those tracks where I feel like Kevin Barnes isn't really making this electronic sound his own, and it suffers as a result. The melody, lyrics, and some other elements have potential, but some of the synths elements and those trap percussion sounds kind of obscure the vision, in my opinion.
"chap pilot"- This is a great album closer, and another one of those really oddball tracks on Innocence Reaches that is really intriguing. This is an intense slow build, that reminds me of a pocket 'The Past is a Grotesque Animal' if it were thrown into a blender with a rave and tribal drums. I really like Kevin Barnes exhausted sounded vocal delivery offset by the swirling layers of instrumentation that keep the tension up. It's a really dense track that will probably reveal even more the more that it's picked apart.
All in all, I think this is a very solid of Montreal album. I can appreciate Kevin Barnes' desire to experiment, and though this electronic and EDM sound seems a little bit awkward in spots, I see those as growing pains. I really see the potential of the sound in other sections, but what has me more intrigued are the really off the wall tracks like 'chap pilot', 'chaos arpeggiating' and the jazzy sections of 'my fair lady'. I hope that Barnes expands on this sound as well, as I really want to see his freak flag fly. For fans of the band, I think they'll enjoy this record if they like their more synth driven phase. For those who were into their Kindercore era, I'm not really sure if there's a lot here for you. However, for those of you who were really into the rock influenced Lousy with Sylvianbriar or the relentlessly experimental Paralytic Stalks, I think there's some stuff to like about this record, and maybe a glimmer of some more experimental material to come.
Out of a total of five stars, I give this album:
What did you think of this album? Are there any other records that are out right now that you can't get enough of, or would like me to share my thoughts on? Check back in later for more reviews.
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