NEW RELEASE OF THE WEEK: OF MONTREAL'S 'PARALYTIC STALKS' (TREEFORT MUSIC FEST IN MARCH!)

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PLAYING BOISE’S TREEFORT MUSIC FEST IN MARCH!

“Ambitious.” It’s a bit of a dreaded word, a damning bit of faint praise usually reserved for albums that aim too high. “That album was bereft of anything memorable..… but it was ambitious.” Or, more accurately, “That concept album about vocoders and indigenous masks was ambitious, awful shit.”

Well, there’s no getting around it: Of Montreal’s newest album, Paralytic Stalks, is capital-A Ambitious, with its sprawling second half, dense sonics, and ominous opening inquiry (self-described as “unanswered”): “You know what parasites evolved from?” But it’s also the best thing Kevin Barnes and increasingly growing company have produced since 2007’s masterful Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?. Most importantly, despite being an unapologetically “demanding” — not actually demanding, but more on that later — listen, it never once falls into the self-seriousness that occasionally plagued Sufjan Stevens’ similarly-minded The Age of Adz. Nor does it reek of Barnes trying desperately to convincingly channel the cracked queercore of a Cody Critcheloe or Jake Shears, as too much of his glammed-up post-Gay Parade output has. Instead, we’re getting an intensely confessional record that holds a microscope up to seemingly ordinary things: “human existence, revenge, self-hatred, and his relationship with wife Nina,” toots the press release. So despite the initial appearance of affectation, these songs are organic pieces of work that unfurl over time to reveal a distinct humanity. Alongside that well of introspection lie some of the strongest hooks and most disarming words Barnes has ever written; the album’s first five songs marry crazed production with direct sentiments magnificently. It all comes together perfectly on the album’s best entry point, the wondrous “Spiteful Intervention”: “I spend my waking hours haunting my life/ I made the one I love start crying tonight.”

What we have here really isn’t a “difficult” album at all; it’s too personal and too deeply felt to be something merely admired. When the music is thorny, it’s purposefully so, gleefully passing “excessive” but stopping short of “masturbatory.” As a portrait of a confused man attempting to make artistry and conscious earthbound reality compatible, the album is zealous and dizzying. But there’s a reason why the product of such evidently personal anguish exists in commercial form at all — because in this fierce mess of a record, there is, inevitably, something all-embracing to be shared with the world. Here’s the thing: At the end of the day, Kevin Barnes is really trying to make good pop. Paralytic Stalks is just that, bombast and all.Tiny Mix Tapes

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