of Montreal – Lady on the Cusp review: flashes of genius begging to be refined

promo shot for of Montreal's album Lady On The Cusp

Review

Rating
6/10
Rating
6.0/10

You’d think that after nineteen studio albums plus countless EPs and compilations of rarities, a musical project would show signs of slowing down and running out of ideas. For Kevin Barnes’ long-running of Montreal project, the ideas have never stopped coming. Unfortunately on their latest album, Lady on the Cusp, therein lies its greatest flaw.

of Montreal’s abundant discography has never been short of personality or experimentation, with Barnes never resting on their laurels or phoning it in after a fruitful spell. Take for example their run of albums from 2004-07 – a near-perfect trilogy consisting of Satanic Panic in the Attic and The Sunlandic Twins’ blissful psychedelia, and the critically acclaimed prog-pop opus Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? – there’s not a wasted moment on any of the aforementioned records, and in a just world they’d be held in much higher esteem than they’re given credit for.

There’s also records such as 1999’s The Gay Parade with its carnivalesque whimsy, or 2012’s Paralytic Stalks, a maximalist headfuck that sees Barnes grapple with their demons and deliver their most confessional songwriting. It might seem worthless to continue referencing past outings in such a way, but knowledge of each and every part of the of Montreal oeuvre is crucial to Lady on the Cusp, because the album dips its toes into virtually all aspects of their history, for better or worse.

On one hand, the album is billed as a ‘reintroduction’ to the band, but also strives to keep in mind the importance of forward progress over rehashing former glories. Lady on the Cusp also serves as the dawn of a ‘new chapter’ in other respects, with Barnes having absconded from their longtime Athens, GA hub in favour of the quieter climes of Vermont.

The singles that surfaced prior to the album’s release flirt with different parts of the of Montreal catalogue, with ‘Rude Girl on Rotation’ sitting in the vein of their jangly early material and sounding not too far removed from their Elephant 6 Collective associates such as The Apples in Stereo or The Minders. ‘Yung Hearts Bleed Free’ on the other hand is more aligned with the style of False Priest; as indebted to Prince as it is Peaches with its mixture of funk, electroclash and sexually charged lyrics.

Both of these served as early promise for the record, and much of the first half of the album continues in this vein of revisiting older styles without it feeling like lip service or becoming contrived. ‘Soporific Cell’ is a highlight in that it captures all of Barnes’ strengths as a songwriter in its use of creative wordplay and fluid movement between sections through intuitive melodies.

Along with the opening one-two of ‘Music Hurts the Head’ and ‘2 Depressed 2 Fuck’, it feels as though the of Montreal magic is in full flow across the front end of Lady on the Cusp, but the decline begins at this midway point.

Where some of the tracks in the latter half meander by without making any lasting impressions or living up to the vibrance of the first five songs, there are also moments where experimentation and clash of genres spills over into unfocused chaos, and Barnes shows such a staunch commitment to not applying a creative filter that it begins to have an impact on how tolerable things are.

The worst culprits for this are ‘Pi$$ Pi$$’ and ‘Poetry Surf’, where incomprehensible lyrics run free and cloud any intended meaning to a point that it’s impossible to divulge what the initial intention could have been. While one of Barnes’ trademarks as a lyricist is to use florid turns of phrase, using their evergreen fascination with Greek mythology and avant-garde literature to provide a backbone for many themes, it was always more pleasant when used sparingly and surprisingly as opposed to constantly.

With lines like ‘chryselephantine chiaroscuro cerements unearthed’ directly preceding ‘cressets of magniloquent Perceptron fission porno-vision’, it’s more than enough verbiage to scare off the average listener, and arguably even enough of an overzealous use of the thesaurus to frighten even the most devoted Rogetian disciples. 

It’s a shame that the cluttered and confused nature of the final five songs really sours the reasons to celebrate the first five’s brilliance, much like how fellow psychedelic stalwarts The Flaming Lips have been on recent outings. There are flashes of genius and signs that there’s still life in the project for years to come, but there might also be good reason to slow down the output as a means of damage control.

featured image: Shervin Lainez

Review

Rating
6/10
Rating
6.0/10
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