I was recently reading an interview on Pitchfork.com in which the journalist interviews up-and-coming rapper Earl Sweatshirt. In said interview, Sweatshirt is asked about his personal material and how he can relate to his fans. He answers with this: “Even if my specific situation isn’t similar to most people’s, you relate to shit when you can hear that it’s a genuine expression of where that person’s at… It’s not even emotional—you can just tell when someone’s being really honest.” As I’m reading these words I’m listening to of Montreal’s newest album, Lousy With Sylvianbriar, and I can’t help but thinking that this album fits that criteria perfectly. It is not only the best of Montreal album since Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, it is easily some of the most personal material that frontman Kevin Barnes has ever created.
The smartest thing that Barnes has done here is change up the pace a little bit. Instead of the cluttered synth and electronic psychedelic rock of more recent efforts, Lousy With Sylvianbriar adopts the neo-psychedelic rock of earlier of Montreal albums such as Cherry Peel. It sounds like it could have come straight out of the ’70s, with unfocused acoustic guitars spattered throughout its tracks. Barnes also sounds great, and you can actually understand his lyrics this time around, unlike on some of the band’s previous work. But it’s not how he sounds that will keep you coming back to Lousy, it’s his jarringly personal lyrics and inexplicably catchy tunes that will keep you addicted.
One of the biggest problems with of Montreal’s writing, to me at least, was that it seriously lacked relatability. But this refers to the earlier Earl Sweatshirt quote. You may not actually have anything in common with these songwriters, but what Barnes has written for Lousy is so shockingly introspective that you can’t help but feel for the guy. There are the twisted examples like in “Colossus” when the first two lines are “Your mother hung herself in the National Theater/ When she was four months pregnant with your sister”, and then there are the more genuine lines like in “Triumph of Disintegration” when Barnes wails “I had to make myself a monster just to feel something of me enough to be true.”
But all of this introspection doesn’t mean that there isn’t any fun to be had on Lousy, because there certainly is a lot of it. Beginning song “Fugitive Air” kicks things off with a fun romp through Barnes’ psyche. It sounds like an airy, light tune, but upon further inspection you see that Barnes is singing lines like “I’m a walking mausoleum, the scent of rotting flesh,” all with a smile on his face and enough oo-la-la’s to put the Arctic Monkeys’ “Mad Sounds” to shame. But it’s the almost six-minute-long third track “Belle Glade Missionaries” that truly steals the show. Sporting a hilarious opening line and one of the most controversial choruses I’ve heard in some time (I’ll let you hear it for yourself), it’s a song that you will go back to time and again.
Lousy With Sylvianbriar isn’t just a return to form for Barnes and of Montreal, this album may very well regain the steadily fading fan base of the psych-rock band. It ditches everything that hindered the band’s previous efforts, and in doing so they have made one of the best albums this fall. It sounds like it came straight from the ’70s, has tantalizing lyrics, and most importantly, it’s fun. of Montreal fans will be more than pleased, and it’s a friendly and easy enough listen for new listeners to hop on the trippy wagon. Kevin Barnes may not be the most stable person in the world, based on his songwriting, but as long as he keeps making music like this you won’t hear me complaining.