Album review: Of Montreal – False Priest (Polyvinyl)

All you need to make an inspired album is an unhinged middle-aged black transgender funkateer at the helm

Transsexual alter-egos say the darnedest things. [b]Georgie Fruit[/b] made his debut on [a]Of Montreal[/a]’s breakout eighth LP [b]‘Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?’[/b] In 2007, though, he found a way to upstage his creator [b]Kevin Barnes[/b] with the R-rated surrealism of the following year’s [b]‘Skeletal Lamping’[/b].

A black 40-something funk veteran with a penchant for freaky sex and trans-gender ops in both directions, [b]Fruit[/b] is the psychotraumatic offspring of [b]Barnes[/b], main man of this art-freak troupe with origins in [b]Athens[/b], [b]Georgia[/b]’s [b]Elephant 6[/b] collective. He’s the Jekyll to Barnes’ thoughtful Hyde, a slavering cross between Prince at his ’80s filthiest and transgressive philosopher Georges Bataille.

[b]‘Hissing Fauna…’[/b] made a cult figure of [b]Barnes[/b], with its alarmingly frank portrait of a man in the throes of a vicious depressive bout. It was their [b]‘The Holy Bible’[/b] in lurid Technicolor, and it had taken its toll. What Fruit provided was a chance to survey the wreckage at a handy remove, masking Barnes’ psychic pain in terms only a sex pest could love: “Lover-face, wanna make you ejaculate/Until it’s no longer fun”.

It was a neat trick, but if ‘…Fauna…’ was a psychedelic masterwork that felt like tracing the rainbow’s arc into Dante’s last circle of Hell, its follow-up was something of a disappointment; the music was a car-crash of ideas rarely given room to breathe.

Barnes’ response? To produce a “trunk-rattling” record which doesn’t so much can Fruit as keep him on a tighter leash. [b]‘False Priest’[/b] also comes billed as doffing its cap to Miami bass, [b]Philip K Dick[/b], [a]Dr Dre[/a] and [b]William S Burroughs[/b], among others. Could anyone conjure such a mad picnic of characters and not wind up a few sandwiches short? Nope, but [b]‘False Priest’[/b] has fun trying.

“There’s an invisible suture that keeps me in my seat next to you ‘til the end”, drawls [b]Barnes[/b] on opener [b]‘I Feel Ya’ Strutter’[/b], perhaps by way of apology to his wife, Nina, for pain caused by his autobiographical outbursts. He sounds at once unhinged and lucid, like [b]Sly Stone[/b] in his armchair blasting at clocks with a sawn-off shotgun. There’s a reason for that – Barnes laid down a bunch of vocal takes half-cut at 4am.

[b]‘False Priest’[/b] is also [a]Of Montreal[/a]’s first and only adventure in hi-fi, a co-production job with [a]Kanye West[/a] consort [b]Jon Brion[/b]. It’s an approach that works wonders on [b]‘Our Riotous Defects’[/b]’ delirious synth-pop, and especially on single [b]‘Coquet Coquette’[/b], which sees the battle of the sexes redrawn as an apocalyptic spaghetti western soundtracked by [a]The White Stripes[/a].

[a]Solange[/a] Knowles gets likened to a playground in [b]‘Sex Karma’[/b], while [a]Janelle Monáe[/a] brings a touch of her coveted interstellar whimsy to the rather fab [b]‘Enemy Gene’[/b], whose lyric echoes the anti-clerical sentiments of the album’s title: “How can we ever evolve when our Gods are so primitive?” [b]Barnes[/b] has been effusive about [b]Monáe[/b] of late, and certainly the ties that bind them are stronger than first glance would suggest.

Meanwhile, [b]Barnes[/b]’ talents as a latter-day funkateer improve with age, as on the [b]‘Computer Blue’[/b] strangeness of [b]‘Around The Way’[/b] or [b]‘Do You Mutilate?’[/b]’s downhome piano and rolling, [a]Curtis Mayfield[/a] percussion. That song’s typical of their tangential brilliance, rhyming “kindness” and “Busta Rhyme-ness” before segueing into a [b]‘Ruby Tuesday’[/b]-ish coda, finally concluding that, “If you think God is more important than your neighbour/You’re capable of terrible evil”. Cheers fella!

It’s no disgrace that, after two head-spinning, star-making turns, [b]‘False Priest’[/b] is simply the sound of [b]Kevin Barnes[/b] relocating the rudder and applying a steady hand. And though it’s [a]Janelle Monáe[/a] who’s made the record closest to [b]Kevin Barnes[/b]’ heart in 2010, [a]MGMT[/a] would kill to cut discs as eccentric and nakedly expressive as this.

[b]Alex Denney[/b]

Click here to get your copy of Of Montreal’s ‘False Priest’ from Rough Trade Shops.