False Priest - Polyvinyl
FILTER Grade: 84%
By Kyle MacKinnel on August 31, 2010
By now, it should be safe to say that for Kevin Barnes, making music equates to making love (read: unbridled, kinky, gratuitous sex). When it comes to Of Montreal, this much is given. Rest assured that False Priest—the band’s tenth long-player in 15 years—relentlessly delivers the lusty goods again, and what once were buds of influence from funk and R&B have now extended their bloom. Also true to form, the flamboyant curlicues of Barnes’ verbose verse have not been shorn here in the least.
The main twist of this affair is the number of partners involved, along with a relatively exotic locale. For Priest, Barnes has seduced the vocal talents of Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles, and found a fitting counterpart in co-producer Jon Brion. But the biggest surprise here is that for the first time in its history, Of Montreal has gone into a proper studio (at least for a portion of the album’s 13 tracks). Perhaps enticed by the flexibility of Brion’s production palette, Barnes jettisoned his Athens, Georgia, attic in favor of Los Angeles’ storied Ocean Way Recording. And though in theory this decision might seem as unexpected as, say, doling out tunes for endorsements, Barnes’ eccentricity ends up on top and proves capable of satisfying.
Opening False Priest, “I Feel Ya’ Strutter” is set in the whirl of a lovefest coke disco, evoking something like Rocky Horror’s Frank N. Furter ripping lines off of fluttering dictionary pages, maybe in a pig costume getting spanked with a ruler by Susan Sarandon. In fact, during a recent theatrical performance involving Of Montreal in New York, the latter half of that image actually happened. Right off the bat, we are served a zany jubilance mixed with references to past bouts of psychic gloom: “The head scene dropped the vaccine/and I’ve chosen a very powerful penance,” Barnes rattles off lasciviously. “Our Riotous Defects” upholds the tempo, and is laced with informal soliloquies, during one of which a wacky girlfriend eliminates a beta fish’s map. These first tracks set a neo-vaudevillian tone in their presentation, and contribute a theatrical context to Priest that sticks.
Lead single, “Coquet Coquette,” ventures into rockier territory and finds Barnes musing on juvenile lust in the most veiled of manners; for him, anyway: “With you I can only see my black light constellations/and other shit I don’t think I have a language to say.” It’s poetic…kind of. The album’s strongest movement arguably occurs at its core, with “Godly Intersex” delivering a brand of astro-funk almost as heady as the title would suggest. “Enemy Gene” follows up with Monáe in the sack as well, and revels in the anamorphous of Brion’s spacey production.
Beginning on “Hydra Fancies,” a string of lyrical content relating to False Priest’s titular concept is interjected. Barnes has said that for him, the title refers to a “false policing of one’s self” and the idea of self-imposed limitations. Here, he declares, “I’ve got so much to tell you/and it can’t wait ’til you’re born again.” The theme continues to run, and ends up running wild on the closer, “You Do Mutilate?” which concludes with a straight-up anti-sermon: “If you think some prophet’s words/are more important than your brother and your sister/then you’re ill, and you’re wrong.” Enough said.
During the album’s final act, Barnes breaks out the leather and delves into darker territory. Inspired in part by the writings of William S. Burroughs, he explores themes of substance and dependency on “Girl Named Hello” and “Famine Affair.” The former track plays out like a confessional in which Barnes admits, “If I treated someone else the way I treat myself/I’d be in jail.” Though in terms of content, Priest is still as lewd and anarchic as John Waters’ work from the ’70s; its soundscape is more readily palatable than predecessors, resulting in a record that approaches pop as closely as Of Montreal has recently come. A playful back-and-forth between Barnes and none other than Beyoncé’s little sister, “Sex Karma” serves as a good illustration of this. Leaned against the sprawling, schizophrenic Skeletal Lamping (2008), the contrast is pretty stark.
Over the breakdown of “Faberge Falls for Shuggie,” (off 2007’s fantastic Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?) Barnes chanted the phrases, “Skeletal Lamping/False Priest.” Add this throb of foresight to the fact that Priest marks the third appearance of Barnes’ transsexual alter ego, Georgie Fruit (formerly of the ’70s funk band Arousal), and we are left with a trio of albums that could well be known one day as the Fruit Trilogy. In fact, let’s coin it as such right here and now.
Like it or not, Of Montreal could never be boring, in the same way that an orgy could never be a yawner. Dripping with libido and pristine production, False Priest follows Barnes as he sows his oats from a variety of angles, some of them brand new, and with multiple partners to boot.