“Paralytic Stalks”

Maximilian Maude

While it seems hard to believe that of Montreal have been releasing albums for almost two decades, their prolificacy has stemmed from their unique ability to melt minds with their glitzy, schizophrenic psych-funk.

On their 11th studio album, “Paralytic Stalks,” of Montreal gently veers off from the trajectory of their past accomplishments in an attempt to create an album that bleeds the unmitigated neuroses and passions of their eccentric frontman, Kevin Barnes.

It’s impossible to appreciate of Montreal without first understanding the expertise and effort that goes into Barnes’ meticulous production and songwriting. Ever since 2007’s “Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?” was generally lauded as an innovative and conceptual masterpiece, each of Barnes’ albums has been painstakingly analyzed as an introspective opus.

On “Paralytic Stalks,” Barnes manipulates the expectations of his listeners, by gradually mixing the familiar styles of former albums with impulsive sonic arrangements that echo the thematic anxiety of his lyrics. The songs that kick off the album — “Spiteful Intervention” and “Dour Percentage” — have the rippling bass lines and flickering falsetto harmonies that are indicative of the band’s previous material.

However, after the brief vaudevillian interlude of “Malefic Dowry,” the album contorts into a meandering exploration of experimental chaos. The vocal melodies on the first half of the album become few and far between. Instead, Barnes prefers to present lengthy, orchestral art-rock compositions in lieu of his usual routine.

For these experimental pieces, of Montreal enlisted the help of studio musicians creating a rich symphony of strings and woodwinds for the first time in the band’s career. With a whole orchestral ensemble under his command, Barnes shies away from the electric glow of synthesizers in favor of a more organic sound, which successfully complements the genuine emotional content of the album.

In prior albums, Barnes has been known to chronicle his anxiety either through fictional failed romantic endeavors, struggles with medication and suicidal thoughts or interactions with his alter ego, Georgie Fruit, a forty-year-old cross-dressing African-American man who plays in a funk-rock band.

Nevertheless, these earlier confessions of instability don’t feel as real as the raw anger on “Paralytic Stalks.” The palpable bitterness feels like an honest response to actual relationships. Barnes ceases to rely on obscure literary and cinematic references as metaphors, and he alternatively pleads to his wife Nina for help in “Ye, Renew the Plaintiff”: “Oh Nina, my whole system is chaos. I’m desperate for something but there’s no human word for it. I should be happy, but what I feel is corrupted, broken, impotent and insane.”

Sometimes the spastic nature of the shifting ideas can be somewhat jarring and scatterbrained, such as brief sections of slide guitar and country music found in Wintered Debts. At any rate, “Paralytic Stalks” represents a symbolic transformation of a band that remains committed to exploring new territories, even after several reinventions during their extensive career.

Even though long-time fans may not initially welcome the change, they should attempt to enjoy the album as an intimate insight into the simultaneously dazzling and distressed psyche of Barnes.

As Barnes sings in the Plaintiff”: “Oh Nina, my whole system is chaos. I’m desperate for something but there’s no human word for it. I should be happy, but what I feel is corrupted, broken, impotent and insane.”

Sometimes the spastic nature of the shifting ideas can be somewhat jarring and scatterbrained, such as brief sections of slide guitar and country music found in “Wintered Debts.” At any rate, “Paralytic Stalks” represents a symbolic transformation of a band that remains committed to exploring new territories, even after several reinventions during their extensive career.

Even though long-time fans may not initially welcome the change, the album is rewarding as an intimate insight into the dazzling and distressed psyche of Barnes.

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