Album review: of Montreal's 'Paralytic Stalks'
There are admirable qualities to Kevin Barnes. The sometimes falsetto-voiced maestro behind of Montreal has, for 10 prior albums, shown a dedication to lo-fi craft that’s sometimes tantalizingly at odds with his giant, glam-rock ambitions. After all, just because it’s indie rock doesn’t mean it can’t use some ol’ showbiz pizazz. Yet “Paralytic Stalks” is downright exhausting.
“Your eyes are an agent of darkness,” Barnes teasingly sings on “Spiteful Intervention,” accompanied by a computer-enhanced backing choir. Yet the musical hall of mirrors Barnes evokes is headache-inducing. There’s about 20 seconds of a melodic fragment in “Spiteful Intervention,” but the rest is an overly chatty mix of cartoon rhythms, horror-film pianos and strained, unearned vocal aggression.
The entire album has an anything-goes, junkyard approach to orchestral pop, missing the more pointed dips into R&B brought to 2010’s Jon Brion-assisted “False Priest.” Barnes sings of something that’s “terrorized his psyche” on “We Will Commit Wolf Murder,” a mismatch of spooky atmospheres and folksy woodwinds, but the songs are filled with so many half-formed ideas that his attempts at darkness just elicit shrugs. “Dour Percentage,” a groove-less hippie journey, is graced with a tacked-on, soft-rock flute, while “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” is a confounding mix of dead-end guitar solos and aimless “la-la’s,” adding up to nearly 9 minutes of tensionless racing.
Worst of all, however, is “Wintered Debts,” the downtrodden acoustic rambler-turned-Vaudevillian strut that sets off a cringe-inducing grand finale to the album. The final three tracks clock in at more than 28 minutes (“Exorcismic Breeding Knife” is seven and a half minutes of violin torture), and by the time Barnes sings of slipping in his own vomit, the audience may be asking a question Barnes had already posed: “What is the function of this ego sickness?”
1 star (Out of four)
— Todd Martens