Kevin Barnes is thrilled, high as a kite, giddy with love and heady with joy. ‘I Feel Ya Strutter’ opens of Montreal’s 10th album with a burst of positivity. As ever it’s lyric heavy and nearly too clever for its own good, squashed to the brim with puns and witticisms but they pull it off as they have done with the 9 other albums in their repertoire. Following on from the sometimes painfully personal Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and the sexual-disco marathon that was Skeletal Lamping, a kind of happy medium seems to have been reached.
At the risk of sounding like my mam or Larry Gogan, this album is funky, hip, groovy and any other clichéd word you can think of to describe something you might hear on the soundtrack of a 1970s youth movie. It combines their signature sound with a jazz-funk feel and remains dramatically upbeat for all but the final three tracks. ‘Our Riotous Defects’, the first of two tracks featuring Janelle Monae, is a sweet little love story where Barnes tells his lover how he “hooked up with one of your cousins to somewhow feel closer to you”. Four or five tracks in, the sexual theme starts to get a bit much. It’s not boring per se, it’s just that Barnes’s voice sounds more like a whine than a sexy whimper at most pitches, but the saving grace is the variety in his voice. Now, you don’t call a song ‘Godly Intersex” without having a whopper of a tune to back it up and it almost lives up to its spectacular title with a move to a ’90s-sounding rhythm. ‘Enemy Gene’ is the better of the two Janelle Monae tracks with her voice sounding smooth and perfectly different next to Barnes’s. ‘Hydra Fancies’ is full of voice layering, more falsetto and a great ending, culminating in the type of melodic mess they do so well. ‘Sex Karma’ features the lesser spotted Knowles, Beyoncé’s hipster sister Solange. It’s about sex, surprisingly enough, and contains lines such as “Ain’t nobody do me better,” so Kevin obviously felt he could relax on the witty lyric writing at certain points in the album.
There’s 13 tracks on the album and from track 10 the disco ball is put away, the dry ice machine is switched off and out come the big hitters. ‘Famine Affair’ is minimal in the extreme in lyrical terms and sounds like a young Robert Smith repeatedly shouting “Go
away.” ‘Casualty of You’ is a beautiful, loaded ballad at a much slower pace. The album closes with Barnes preaching to the converted on ‘You Do Mutilate’ telling us that “if you think God is more important than your neighbour, you’re capable of terrible evil.” Nothing under the heavens is new and it’s probably not the first time that an album has spanned themes of passionate sex, childish rage, trying to help a depressed partner, fancying someone’s cousin and then finished in a Tolkien-esque sermon on morality but I can’t for the life of me think of anything to match it. It’s weird, unevenly paced and yet fantastically enjoyable. Of Montreal have pulled it off yet again.